“In the great Kerry area tradition, there are quite a few American visitors, stepping in and out of coaches, weaving through narrow roads and along beautiful hills”
The drive from Roscommon to our hotel near Sneem is scheduled to take over four hours. We stop for lunch in a pub in Newmarket-on-Fergus, where two friendly customers at the bar counter treat us to the full ‘Locals staring at stranger(s) suddenly arriving into our pub’ treatment. After offering a friendly hello, their curiosity reluctantly wanes as we amble towards the lounge area. There, an elderly man with wispy hair cradles a pint of Guinness and his thoughts.
After a nice lunch, it’s on with our journey (man at bar counter with arms folded turns slowly, nods purposefully, makes full eye contact, emits a routine ‘good luck’ – and then appears to be wrong-footed when I begin some small talk with a reference to the weather).
We drive from the home of All-Ireland hurling champions Limerick into the home of All-Ireland football champions Kerry, but not before being delayed for 45 minutes or so due to traffic jams on the approach to Adare. There’s lots of time (a bit too much) to again admire this gorgeous village.
This trip to Kerry for a weekend break is to celebrate our wedding anniversary, an end-of-summer treat, post-pandemic and all that! Parknasilla Resort & Spa is a beautiful location, the venue busy but very relaxed. In the great Kerry area tradition, there are quite a few American visitors, stepping in and out of coaches, weaving through narrow roads and along beautiful hills. There are lots of Irish people staying here too; in these difficult economic times this is quite an encouraging eye-opener, but then Kerry is Ireland’s tourism capital.
The hotel, located in the heart of the Ring of Kerry, offers residents breathtaking scenery. It nestles in the bosom of a sensational tapestry of mountains, nature walks and inlets, all overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, beautiful beaches stretching into the distance. To paraphrase the irrepressible Eamon Dunphy, this is world class scenery, baby!
While enjoying the peace and calm (and hotel facilities), an afternoon spin into nearby Sneem still can’t be resisted. It’s such a quaint village. The people are very friendly. The lady in the book store is chatty and welcoming; the man in the gift shop – he has a very distinguished long beard – talks Covid, brooches and life.
At the village green, and four years on since our last encounter with them, the old man and his goat are still there. Some readers will be familiar with the duo; the man sits for most of the day by a stone wall, accompanied by his companion, a mountain goat with a long ‘beard’ and spectacular horns. Many of the tourists disembarking from coaches for a stop-off in Sneem take photos and make a donation to the man’s ‘collection box’. ‘Puck the goat’ and his gentle owner are quite the tourist attraction.
He has a long beard, a friendly disposition, and an air of serenity in the face of charmed onlookers (this description applies to both the man and the goat).
At 4.30 pm, after the last tourist bus has left, the man slowly packs the day’s ‘takings’ into his rucksack. Then our friend and his mountain goat rise and walk into the heart of the village, their day done. He waves (the goat stares/poses) as they set off into the evening.
In the hotel dining room, the couple at a nearby table are discussing what wine to choose.
“You know every French wine gives me a migraine” the man (politely) mutters to his partner as they browse the list.
Oh give me a break! Every French wine gives him migraine! Maybe we’re in the presence of a world class wine connoisseur (or connoisseurs), but more likely it’s an outbreak of acute pretentiousness. It’s time to stop eavesdropping, for fear it will give me a migraine…
Later, a young father follows his toddler daughter as she zigzags up and down the hallway. I sit for a few minutes by the inviting open fire, a Kerry man across from me. He’s just past middle-age, well, depending on where middle-age is (for some of us, it’s movable). The Kerry man is immersed in his smartphone, but when an English couple emerge from the dining room, he springs from his chair. The lady has a big hello for him, and a smile. In contrast, her partner, a very straight-backed man in a black suit, is aloof. The Kerry man had obviously met them earlier; he may be a tour guide. He recommends Muckross House and various other attractions. The lady is grateful, delighted even. The straight-backed man leaves all the talking to the woman. A pianist in the corner plays The Tennessee Waltz, beautifully. A few minutes later Fiona and I relax in the bar, where two musicians are starting up. The friendly staff behind the bar counter don’t take cash; it’s card only. Changing times (with no change).
After enjoying some of the lovely walking trails, it’s time to move on to another beautiful hotel, still in Co. Kerry. Forgive all this people watching, but doesn’t everyone do it? In the dining room, a party of eight or nine American visitors are seated. At one stage they begin playing the ‘Rose and thorn’ game, whereby each person says what their best (Rose) part of the day was, followed by the most disappointing (thorn). They’re nice people. Dinner is fabulous.
Later, the atmosphere is very relaxed, a gentleman playing beautiful music on a violin in a very plush adjoining lounge, laden with antiques, easy chairs and even a touch of mystique.
When the violinist finishes a song, one of the Americans is all questions to him. Which is fine.
“Are you Irish…where are you from?” (The violinist reveals he is actually also an American, but has been living in Ireland a long time).
The violinist resumes playing.
American guest, a few moments later: “Where was the violin made?” (Answer: Germany).
The violinist plays Nessun Dorma. It’s not our normal Saturday night, but it’s a lovely treat in a stunning hotel, and we’re enjoying it.
Next question. “What is a violin made of?” (Answer: Balsa, bit of spruce…eh…“but different violins are made of different woods…”
“Is that one made of balsa?”
And my thorn is…
It’s a fancy spot for sure. At breakfast, the marmalade/jams are presented in tiny, very quaint jars. I am suddenly tempted to take one home with me. After all, if I used all the marmalade on toast/bread there and then, the jar ends up empty anyways. Of course if they actually refill the jars, maybe I shouldn’t take one!
Later, and after three lovely days in two beautiful venues, we check out. Now reality looms. I place the receipt in my coat pocket, beside my newly-acquired very quaint marmalade jar.