Limerick, Cork and Kerry
Southwest Ireland
Sept. 7/16, 1990

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Introduction
2  Fri. Sept. 7, Mirabel ...  
3  Sat. Sept. 8, Heathrow, England
4  Sun. Sept. 9, B&B just outside Limerick
5  Mon/Thurs Sept. 10/13, Cork
6  Friday Sept. 14, Cork
7  Sat. Sept. 15, Almost Bantry - I think? (hope)
8  Sun. Sept. 16, Milltown to Shannon Airport
9  Maps

1  Introduction

The objective of the trip was to ``harmonize'' and obtain an agreement amongst a number of interested parties, the French, Germans, English, Swedes, and Dutch for a new TEX 256 Extended font encoding. We managed to obtain agreement. It is now out for ratification ... hopefully by the end of the month.

As is usual on these trips I took my bicycle and rode round trip from Shannon to Cork to Shannon. After some study of the Irish Tourist Holiday map, that I was only able to pick up in Cork, I decided to go to Kinsale, Cape Clear, Killarney, Dingle and Tralee ... and then on to Tarbert for the ferry across the mouth of the Shannon and thence to the airport. I consistently underestimated the distances and the countryside. By the time I got to Glandore, it was clear that Cape Clear was impossible. To be ``ferry safe'', I really needed another day. When I got to Killarney, at about 5:30pm rather than the 1:00pm that I had hoped, it was apparent that I could not make it to Tralee and hence Dingle. The hour that I ``saved'' by continuing on to Milltown made it possible to get to Shannon airport on Sunday. I underestimated that too ... Milltown to Shannon was a couple of small, but noticeable passes, one ferry, and 140km (87 miles).

Place names in Ireland

A list of Irish places is almost as musical as listening to the language ... such as ``How's it doin wi you, Paddy?'' which I heard, really, several times. This curious construction suggests control by cosmic forces.

These are places that I went through or almost through. I didn't really start to record the Irish names until the third day near Bantry. I missed some potentially interesting ones, such as Union Hall ... I know it was there in Irish ... I saw it on the town sign.

Shannon Airport to Limerick.
Shannon ... an Airport and a river.
Hurler's Cross
Limerick to Cork
Limerick (Luimneach)
Lough Gur ... home of Ireland's largest Druid Circle.
Killmallock (Cil Mocheallog)
Ballyhoura Mountains (Hills?)
Dromboy South
White's Cross
Cork (Corcaigh)
(Crean's Cross Roads, County Cork)
Cork to Bantry (roundabout)
Cork (Corcaigh)
Kinsale (Cionn tSaile)
Clonakilty (Cloich na Coillte)
Rosscarbery Bay and town.
Drombeg Stone Circle
Union Hall
Skibbereen (An Sciobairin)
Culloman Cross Roads
Bantry (Beanntrai)
Bantry to Milltown
Bantry (Beanntrai)
Ballylickey (Beal Atha Leice)
Glengarriff (An Gleann Garbh)
Kenmare (Neidin)
Muckross ... I couldn't find any Irish for this one.
Killarney (Cill Airne)
MacGillycuddy's Reeks ... a range of mountains just west of Killarney.
Fossa (An Fosadh)
Milltown (Baile an Mhuilinn)
Milltown to Shannon Airport
Milltown (Baile an Mhuilinn)
Castlemaine (Caislean na Mainge)
Tralee (Traigh Li)
Listowel (Lios Tuathail)
Tarbert (Tairbeart) ... southern end of Shannon river ferry.
Killimer (Cill Iomai) ... northern end of ferry.
Knock (An Cnoc)
Labasheeda (Leaba Shioda) ... translates to ``bed of fairies''
Kildysart (Cill an Disirt)
Ballynacully (Baile na Cailli)
Clarecastle (Droichead an Chlair)
Newmarket-on-Fergus (Cora Chaitlin)
Shannon Airport

Now on the road!

2  Fri. Sept. 7, Mirabel ... 

When I bought my ticket on British Airways, I specifically asked them if there was any problem with my bike and whether they supplied boxes. When I asked for a box, the lady nicely said that they did not have any. Indeed that was true. However, she managed to borrow one from Air France.

We are going to be an hour late. The excuse is ``ground'' delays. The plane is coming in from Detroit ... so it is not at all clear whose ground is at fault. For me it is not really a problem. Since the plane is late, I suppose that Detroit is not working again. This merely reduces my layover in London from 6 to 5 hours ... hopefully.

The first ``bus'' at our gate filled up and left. The next one took all the remaining passengers ... rolled out to the plane raised itself up and they wouldn't or couldn't open the door. The bus lowered itself, rose up again and the door magically opened.

3  Sat. Sept. 8, Heathrow, England

We made it ... and I know my bike did too ... I just saw it by the baggage carousel ... sitting all by itself. It was supposed to be transferred directly to the flight to Shannon. When I took it over to the baggage people, they claimed that, although they could read, the handlers downstairs couldn't ... and that the bike should not have made it to the baggage area. They claimed, that since they could read, they would have discovered the problem and sent it on. I wonder!

I am in the wrong terminal ... I was suspicious when my flight was not coming up on the TV screen. Fortunately I have much time ... I am in terminal 4 but should be in terminal 1.

4  Sun. Sept. 9, B&B just outside Limerick

An absolutely delightful breakfast ... bacon, sausage, eggs, muesli, juice, coffee, and brown scones.

Bernadette Jean Laffan, the hostess, is apparently a remnant of the Norman invasion and runs the ``Millbrook B&B'' just outside Limerick. I confirmed her low opinion of men when I almost(?) made her late for church as she had to rescue my rain pants that got stuck under the bed.

There was no traffic this morning so I cheerfully started off on the wrong side of the road. I wonder if I shall learn just in time to do it backwards at home.

Some Highway Signs

The road to Killmallock used to be the main road to Cork. It passes by Lough Gur, home of the largest Druid circle in Ireland. It appeared to be about 100' across. The stones were mostly uncut, except for a few cylinders. The cows had left presents in the center. The eastern side of the circle had a cow path, current use, leading into the prime grazing area in the center. A number of trees had encroached on the circle, perhaps suggesting a loss in potency.

I asked some about the availability of bathrooms in a local garage and was directed towards, what I discovered much later to be, the town of Bruff. The word ``Bruff'', rolled out by the lady, was completely unintelligible.

I continued down the rolling green countryside, in brilliant sunshine, to Killmallock. I had lunch in the late bishop's memorial garden. I am almost out of water ... and although there was something that resembled bathrooms, there was no water. Killmallock is a cute, relatively large town.

At Killmallock I have the choice of going through the Ballyhoura Mountains (listed as Hills on one of my maps) or skirt them towards the main road to Mallow. I chose to go through the mountains. On the road south of Killmallock, I met a kid riding his bike. I asked him how high these peaks were. He said he didn't know but that the peak south of Blackrock was four feet the higher. I also asked him about an unmarked road on my map, going through the mountains and cutting off about 5km. He aimed me towards a small one lane ``path'', but I decided it looked to small. About 2km after he had turned off to his house, I found an unmarked road, with a painted dividing line, so I took the chance. It went up, reasonably gently, affording a grand view of the green valley below. It was a beautiful introduction to the Irish countryside. I skirted the 4' higher peak and continued down the back. Very soon I was off the 4m back road onto the 5m main (secondary) road.

About 7 miles outside of Mallow, I asked a man if he knew an ``Ann Gaffney'' on ``Navigation Road''. he said no, but he had heard of the road ... a main road out of town towards Killarney. I expected to interview the entire population of Mallow, but much to my surprise, the first person I talked to knew, not of Ann but Peter Gaffney ... who is apparently a surgeon and one of the towns leading citizens. His wife, he thought was a psychologist and nurse. She is collaborating with Celeste Johnston on an article on ``Pain perception of children'' and I was supposed to deliver a message on its status. Since there was only one Gaffney in town, this was almost certainly it. The house was on a hill behind a, usually open, black gate. There was no number, which agreed with the address that I had, and it was at top of a long drive. I rode out there, found the gate, and climbed up a very steep hill. There was a small house halfway up and two tiny friendly fuzzy dogs guarding the main house at the top. There was no other sign of life ... and no names anywhere. I left a note on my card, and started to leave. One of the little dogs followed me down to the gate ... and looked as though it was about to follow me down the road. Then it ran across the road to chase a lady on a bike and almost got run over by a car. I chased him up the road and he ducked under a fence in the field in front of his house, and then plopped down on the grass ... and just stared. I went back and he stayed put. One last check as I went down the left side of the highway ...  no doggy.

I returned to the center of Mallow, did not see any indications of the ``Hennessey Caves'', heavily advertised on my way in, and continued down on the main road to Cork ... about 20km away. The road had a wide shoulder, that was sometimes used by ``slower'' cars, but was less than quaint. I left it for a parallel side road, climbing about 1km up the ridge of Burnfort. I filled my water bottle at the pub at the top of the hill ... and the pub keeper was kind enough to add ice. I was at the top. It was then down ... and then up again to Bottlehill. A little later I hit an intersection with a warning type arrow <<<<<<< down what looked to be a smaller road. I asked some blackberry pickers which was the right road to Whitechurch ... and they agreed with the arrow. I was also assured that the blackberries made wonderful jam. Later I tried some ... they need sugar ... probably good jam.

It was up and down to Whitechurch and then to White's Cross, the junction of the main road again. The road was now narrow and obviously on the outskirts of Cork. This was old Cork ... I passed the side road to Blarney. Cork is built on the top of parallel ridges, with empty valleys between. I was going down one of them to the River Lee that runs through the center of the present town. Then I followed Peter Flynn's instructions ... to the town center, down Patrick, right on Washington (really), and on to the gates of the University. The gates were closed; it was Sunday; so I didn't recognize them as gates. A couple of blocks later I went up the hill ... asked a lady where to find the ``La Retraite Hostel'', ``Up and around the corner'' (I think she said) and found the Hostel.

5  Mon/Thurs Sept. 10/13, Cork

I did a dumb, especially on a university campus. The result was that my bicycle helmet and water bottle were stolen. I left them on my bike overnight in the courtyard of the ``La Retraite Hostel'' and they were gone in the morning. However, my handlebar bag, my trip computer and my saddle bags were still intact. I didn't think there was any danger of my helmet being stolen ... nobody in Europe wears helmets ... almost. Because of this, I was worried about being able to replace it. It wasn't easy, nor cheap, but after visiting all three bicycle shops in Cork, Ireland's third largest city, I found an acceptable Bell helmet. ``It's the first time I ever heard of that!'' was the universal reply when I told them about the theft.


On Tuesday we visited Blarney Castle, and viewed an upside-down world while kissing the Blarney Stone.

The famous Cork poet, Francis Sylvester Mahony wrote, in 1835, of the stone,

There is a stone that whoever kisses, Oh! he never never missed to grow eloquent Tis tis he may clamber to a lady's chamber, or become a member of parliament.

I wonder if he was predicting the contraction of a modern fatal disease or perhaps something worse.

Apparently the MacCarthy that reigned at Blarney during the reign of Elizabeth the First and could talk ``The moose off his head''. At a point of frustration with the loyal Earl of Blarney, who apparently never fulfilled any promise he made, Elizabeth is to have said

Blarney, Blarney, what he says he does not mean. It is the usual Blarney.

Blarney Castle is a square tower built on small rock hill/cliff. It is very lightly fortified compared to castles in France or Wales. In fact all of the Irish castles in this area, at least superficially, appear to be of the same single square tower construction. The ``murder hole'' was well inside the inner defenses. All was probably lost if it had to be used.

We then visited the Blarney Woolen Mills, which turned out to be a tourist shopping center rather than a mill ... I suppose that was to be expected as the plastic bags for materials given to us at the conference said ``Blarney Woolen Mills''.

Cork has struck me, while riding around as a quite economically depressed place. Our guide confirmed this on the way to Blarney when we were going past mill houses when she said the unemployment was quite high ... due to the recent closing of several factories, and the closing many years ago of the mills.

I have now had fish and onion rings twice for dinner. Wednesday's version was from ``The Chip Stop'' here in Cork. The batter has been quite thin, compared to Canadian English fish and chips. The fish was outstanding. It cost about the same as Montreal. Supper was actually a communal affair ... shared initially with the ducks on the small river running through the University College Cork campus and then with Dr. Kryszta Hollo, a lady from Hungary and Jan Michael Rynning, from Sweden, at La Retraite.

6  Friday Sept. 14, Cork

This morning I start out on my way back to Shannon ... after breakfast. One of the difficulties of touring at this time of year is that the nights are too short. I am going to try and organize myself for convenient B&B access. I am not at all certain it is possible. B&B's have the advantage of giving me some light at night.

Some signs:

Kinsale: ... a colourful little coastal town with lots of little ``stuff'' shops. ``Mother Hubbards'' was my choice for lunch ... milk, sausage, chips and egg.

Some observations:

The countryside Glandore through Union City (there was an Irish name but I missed recording it) to Skibbereen was junk rock piles with the roads going straight up and down. I wonder what the Irish would have done with real mountains and snow.

At Skibbereen I found a junction for two ways to Bantry - one was 33km and the other was 17. I suppose I should have realised it was miles but they were on the same sign post. I did not make it to Bantry. I ended up by riding for about 1/2 hour in the dark before I found a B&B. However ... no tragedy!

7  Sat. Sept. 15, Almost Bantry - I think? (hope)

It was about 8km more to Bantry. Bantry Bay was dead calm, surrounded by cliffs and fishing boats, bathed in the early morning sun. I am now at the top of an unnamed pass just outside of Glengarriff, looking down on almost the full extent of Bantry Bay. Although hazy, there still is a soft beauty. Either this pass is considered insignificant or the Irish only mark the summits of their ``landmark'' passes, such as the Conner pass. We shall see. ... I was indulging in wishful thinking back there. I now am at the summit, still unmarked on the Cork side of the tunnel. The other side is County Kerry.

I asked a ``native'' admiring the view on the Kerry side how high we were. He had no idea. A detailed examination of the contours on the map, and an estimate of the top of the ridge above the tunnel makes me think that it is about 270m. When I remarked about the glorious weather and asked about snow, he said there were usually no more than one or two days a year of slush, and that if the weather were this glorious all year, they would all be millionaires.

The mountains here are Appalachian in height but with a very low tree line.

I had lunch, and reprovisioned in Kenmare and then went straight up to my second unmarked and unnamed pass ... about 9km from Kenmare and 23 km to Killarney. It may be called ``Moll's Gap'' but that is far from certain. The passes in Kerry give the impression of high alpine, treeless, with perhaps too much sedge grass and funny black and white splotchy-faced sheep grazing on the hillsides and the edges of the road. Two ran up the hill in front of me until they heard a car and made quickly for the bank. Obviously I am not life threatening.

I am now sitting staring off into the valley with the sheep happily baaing by me. My guess is that this pass is about 250m (again from the contours on the map). I have come here from sea level. No one, not even the ladies in the shop seem to know the altitude. The two ``native'' estimates, both equally wrong, are 150' and 3000+'.

It looks as though it could be all downhill from here to Killarney but 23km is a long way. In about 1km I discovered that the wish of ``all down'' was indeed just that, ``wishful''. This is a little surprising since while I was waiting and wandering about the ``stuff'' shop at the top, at least six different groups of bicycle tourists pushed up the Killarney side, all looking appropriately exhausted. In fact, this area, north from Skibbereen, seems to be almost over run by touring bicyclists. I have not seen this many since the Loire Valley. The major difference here is that almost all of them are Europeans ... no helmets!

Now there are four sheep racing down the road trying, successfully, to stay in front of me. They have just given way to a huge tour bus coming from behind. A little while later it was my turn to give way to a tour bus and its 10 children. I just squeezed into the bank.

The roads in Ireland are remarkably litter free. It might be an illusion though. Except in the ``tundra'' area of the passes there has been almost no shoulder, and what existed was covered with deep grass and sometimes shrubs, including brilliant red Fuchsias and other exotic wild flowers. I remember, while in France, where they had decided to cut the grass and flowers on the road bank, the grass cutter was followed by a large vacuum cleaner. It had a lot of hidden trash to suck up.

The lakes in Killarney National Park are a dark clear tannin surrounded by rocky cliffs and occasional rock islands. ``Upper Lake'', a rather surprisingly uninspired name for Ireland, showed solid black highwater marks upwards of about 2m above the surface ... either dam control activity or drought. I have been told it has been unusually dry. The surrounding forests consisted of large conifers, probably pines ... given the signs I have seen for such establishments as the ``Pine Bar'' and the ``Pine Pitch'' ... I am not at all certain what the latter sold. MacGillycuddy's Reeks are an impressive ridge of mountains to the west of the lakes. I am quite happy to go around them.

Muckross was the major village before Killarney. It is a true village, I suppose, as it actually had a Post Office. The right side of the road was populated by hotels and the left side by the Muckross Estate and Gardens. It seemed as though there were an entrance every 100m ... about 6 in all. I was stopped in front of one of them by a horse carriage driver imperiously leading his horse and wagon across the road. While I was waiting for him to pass, a tour bus was also kind enough to stop for him.

Killarney itself was a disappointing mix of nondescript tourist ``stuff'' shops and normal retail outlets. I had expected that it would ring one of its famous lakes but the entire town seems to have been shunted off to the side. Instead of stout by the lake, I had to settle for ``prawns in garlic butter with chips and salad'' in a small North High Street restaurant. The prawns were jumbo, came whole, and were eaten like lobster. I showed a dreadful lack of technique.

At about 6:30pm I started out of town, on my way towards Tralee. I am taking the back way towards Milltown rather than the main national road. Although I passed a couple of campgrounds, it was still early and the night would be long. I made it through rolling country, after an initial long hill on R563 (roads are only occasionally marked), to be just on the outskirts of Milltown by about 8:00pm. I stopped at the first B&B I had seen since 7:00pm. They are indeed prevalent, but I have passed several that have shut down for the season, or weekend. They all had an empty signpost on their front lawn.

8  Sun. Sept. 16, Milltown to Shannon Airport

Tralee ... I knew I had another minor pass - this one about 200m around the Slieve Mish Mountains - on the way to Tralee. This town has much more charm than Killarney, perhaps because it appears real. Church was filling as I arrived. I can hear a lilt out the door.

Today is the quintessential (dry) Irish morning. The mists lie low and the hills lose themselves there.

Listowel Home of the famous Listowel Races. Tuesday will be race day ... Bookies will be in attendance.

Some road signs

Knock A town on the north shore of the Shannon consisting of one house, one ruin, and the Shannon Bar, Culligan's Bar, and the Fisherman Hut Lounge Bar. It did have a telephone though - one that took only 2p, 5p, and 10p coins. The minimum for a call to home is 100p.

The Shannon river bank is sharp up and down. I am following the 3m river road rather than the main national secondary road. The next village after Knock is Labasheeda (Leaba Shioda) ... translated for me on the flight from Shannon to London as ``Bed of Fairies''. I tried there to phone home, unsuccessfully, and asked if it were possible. The man I asked was another equally ignorant visiting Canadian.

On up and down to Kildysart (Cill an Disirt). I asked a pair of girls whether it was possible to phone overseas ... they said their pay phone was only a few weeks old and took 50p coins. I still could not make it work. It was here, and later in the outskirts of Ennis, where the kids were practicing their hurling skills in the middle of the highway ... perhaps an exaggeration. From Kildysart it was undulating countryside to Ennis ...  where I hit the main national road.

I continued south towards Shannon (airport) - the latter is ignored in this part of the world. The road was almost entirely with a ``slow lane'' shoulder, except for the occasional bridge ... all the way to Newmarket-on-Fergus. Just south of this I took, with local confirmation, the back road to Shannon Airport. I still had not found a phone, being frustrated in Newmarket. I stopped at an elegant pub and found a phone that had a slot that took 50p coins. After about six attempts, with various, busy, network busy, and no answer conditions, I left a 100p message with Virginia. Phones in Ireland are quite frustrating.

After leaving the pub, about 9km from Shannon, I continued to look for a B&B. There were some at the 7km mark but I felt that I should be closer. At about 5km, I ran into a semi-service road that then led to the airport service road. Again I had missed the mark - the service road was about 5km from Shannon. There was a B&B about 3km from the airport but no one was at home. I ended up at the Shannon International Hotel ... not one of the worlds great hotels. Not only did thy book me into an already occupied room, they charged me $85.00 and insisted that their second-rate carpets would be damaged by my bike. As I anticipated, I spent an extra 15 minutes waiting for them to retrieve my bike in the morning. However, it was unscathed. I then rode the 100m to the airport ... found the departures and, eventually, Tom Cronin's used Delta box for my bike ... hopefully it will be there when I arrive in Montreal.

Random Comments:

Aer Lingus did not have any bicycle boxes but the airport saves old ones. I used Tom Cronin's old Delta box. My seatmate to London, going there to take in a show, worked at the airport for Delta. Delta has a supply of new ones there ... probably the only airline that has.

9  Maps

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On 12 Nov 2008, 12:50.