It’s Day 23 on the trail. Our second last day. A day tinged with anticipation, to be sure. But also regret that it will soon end.
The trail out of Glenbeigh takes us on a circuitous route, up a wooded slope before looping back along the neck of a promontory with views looking over town, as if we had never left. Glenbeigh continues to lie at our feet for some time and we think we are getting nowhere fast. But the trail does eventually carry us westward and upwards for seven or so kilometres. Then, with magnificent panache, the Kerry Way reveals the purpose of its mischievous route.
Cresting a high mountain valley, the land drops away sharply and suddenly, disclosing spectacular views across the Dingle Bay and the North Atlantic. We are standing high on the edge of the world gazing over blue waters, calm and clear, distantly framed by the low slung hills of the Dingle Peninsula.
The trail follows the high contours of a steep slope that plunges precariously down to the shoreline. At the base is a motorway, the famous Ring of Kerry, lined with parked motor coaches at a pullover. Their ant-like cargo scurries about, gazing seaward, snapping pictures, unaware we are watching from above.
From our lofty vantage point, it becomes clear why we choose to walk. This vista is ours alone. You cannot drive up here. You cannot cycle here. You have to do it on foot. And here we are, suspended so delicately between the deep blue dome above and the uncluttered plane of water far below. A private communion with the vast solitude of our world.
The trail from here drops gently on its way to our destination. Not anti-climactically. Just more typical of our journey across Ireland, passing through forests, over hills and across bogs. A path dotted with scenic overlooks, rare pubs and the occasional oddity of human settlement.
We lunch on the grounds of a miniature wayside cottage tightly encircled by a low stone fence. It’s surreal to behold, this thatched roofed doll-house set in a broad plain of wild bogland. I peak through cracks in the locked door, trying to ascribe any discernible use for this folly. I can only make out rough plaster walls, a rickety chair and, on the wall, an elegantly framed print, faded to blue, of fishermen fighting ferocious waves as they haul their boat onto shore. Perhaps a shrine to long-gone glory days of a life at sea.
Later we pass a small, quirky sign, supposedly leading traffic to a nearby art gallery. “Don’t give up” it says. And we won’t.
The trail ends theatrically with a final panoramic flourish. We pass through one last forest, over one last hill before the trail dramatically reveals its bird’s-eye view of our destination, Cahersiveen. It’s a cluster of low-slung gable roofs huddled about a massive stone church rising high above any other building, dominating the townscape. Winding our way down to the main thoroughfare, we come alongside the church’s black limestone walls.
The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church Of The Holy Cross is named not for a saint but a lay person. Daniel O’Connell, born 1775 in Cahersiveen, was known as The Liberator and The Emancipator. He worked peacefully for Catholic emancipation in Ireland, the rights of Irish Catholics to be represented in British Parliament and, unsuccessfully, for repealing the Act of Union combining Great Britain and Ireland. His peaceful strategies inspired the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
It is a church with noteworthy significance to all of the Republic of Ireland and, tangentially, to our own path crossing Ireland. We started our walking journey in Dublin, at the O’Connell Bridge, close to the O’Connell Memorial. We have followed O’Connell’s thread of history across the country.
It’s been a fairly long 34-kilometre day. San Antoine Bed and Breakfast lies at the far end of this large town, but rewards us with a plush, king-sized bed overlooking Dingle Bay. But first, there’s another long trudge back downtown to QC’s, a highly recommended seafood restaurant. It’s a thoroughly bustling place and we are lucky to snag one of the few remaining tables on the patio.
One last reward, indeed.