Doubling up on the school sponsored trips last weekend, I went on UCC’s “Ring of Kerry Heritage Weekend” this past Friday through Sunday. Biggest highlight? Two delicious 3 course meals. And we stayed in a hotel! With a pillow top mattress, hot shower, and 2 pillows!

            But really, besides the accommodation, the trip was wonderful. The Ring of Kerry, in case you don’t feel  like Wikipedia-ing it, is a world-famous 100+ mile driving route in south-western Ireland. Full of fantastic scenery, gorgeous lakes and ocean, and breath taking views, it was a definite must-see in the Study Abroad Ireland Experience. The woman leading the trip, Marian, is a spoken Irish- teacher at UCC, and was from the Kerry area. She seemed to know everyone that we came across and really tried to give us an authentic Irish cultural experience.

Skellig Islands. Isolated ancient Christian heritage sites- pretty cool!

Night #1, for instance, began with the aforementioned delectable dining experience, followed by a talk by Maurice Fitzgerald, a famous Kerry Gaelic footballer, who explained the game and brought along his nine year old son to help teach us some drills. After Maurice, we hs a group of musicians that played while we had a Ceili (pronounced Kaley) Irish dancing class. After working off the dinner, we went to bed to be up early the next morning for the Skellig Ring Tour. The first stop on this more off-the-beaten path area of Kerry was Valentia island, where we stopped at the world-known Valentia slate quarry and took a walk up a mountain with a farmer’s family. Valentia Island looks out on the Skellig Islands and is home to the Skellig Experience, a World Heritage Site. The Skelligs, which were too much of a journey out to see for our group tto go on in our limited time table, were inhabited in the 8th century by Monks looking for complete solitude, which they found (their only company were the massive bird colonies), at least for a while, until the Vikings invaded in the 13th century. We hopped back on the bus (we were on a rather tight schedule) to see Ballinskelligs, where Marian grew up and where her mother (who we got to wave to) still lives. To say it was a lonely area isn’t quite right, because, although the area is very rural, the sense of community that I felt was remarkable- there were so many locals that we got to interact with and that were willing to come meet us as a favor to Marian, one of their own. It was eye opening to see such a different way of life.

The Ballin'-Skelligs. Waterfront view AND a castle? I'll take it!

After an afternoon free to ourselves, another speaker was on Saturday evening- a woman who told us about her life growing up in South Kerry, a large part of which she grew up without electricity, speaking Irish, and attending all of her school years in a one-room school house which required each student to bring in daily a piece of peat for the school fire. After listening to her speak, we were offered a Q and A. Reluctantly, I raised my hand and asked how old she was (in hopefully the politest way possible-  I think that even in Ireland it is a social norm violation to inquire as to a woman’s age). She was 60. Just miles from where our Ring of Kerry Hotel sat, she had lived without electricity for the first 9 years of her life. Do the math- Southern Ireland didn’t have electricity until nearly 1960. And some regions went without until even the 70’s. It’s not a backward area, either. It’s just a different way of life- a simpler way, more personal way of life. Sure they exist in the Internet Age, yes, they have cell phones, but, unlike me, they just don’t spend hours social networking. Their Facebook is the local pub. I can’t really compare it to my way of life- neither better nor worse- just different. Hearing and seeing all that firsthand was probably my favorite (although I remain ever reluctant to use superlatives here) part of the Ring of Kerry weekend.

Table Quiz- still "studying" abroad, even at a pub. It's dedication.

Cahersiveen harbor view from the stone forts

But there was still Sunday. After a table quiz, in which I unfortunately did not succeed in winning the Skellig chocolate prize with my fellow teammates on Saturday night, most of us (those who had not had one too many table quiz pub beverages) left early Sunday morning for a walk around Cahersiveen and up to an ancient Stone fort. We took the rest of the trip in a rather speedy fashion- we met up with students from Galway on the trip and were tightly pressed for time to get them back to the bus station in Kilarney. But we made a few photographing bus stops with commentary provided by the knowledgeable Marian, and visited Daniel O’Connell’s- who is famous for winning Catholic Emancipation for Ireland house in Derrynane. We returned to Cork 5:30 on Sunday, and collapsed in the kitchen of The Spires Apartment 19 with a cup of tea- satisfied and sleepy.

County Kerry