Thursday, 4 August 2016

Weekend with whales

The Girl and I spent last weekend in County Kerry, amid the traditional villages and rocky fjords of the Irish Gaeltacht. We drove along the Wild Atlantic Way, stopping where we pleased to explore pubs and pastures, cliffs and creeks.

We drove along the Conor Pass through the Kerry Mountains, and came upon a steep rock slope, and falling from the mountains above a four-metre-high waterfall. With the fields spread out under us and the sea in the distance, we scaled the side of the mountain and, perhaps a hundred metres up, came upon a clear blue lake of spring water, surrounded by a perfect semi-circle of cliff draped in greenery.

The next day we took a boat around the islands, where we toured the Blasket Islands, one of the most famous sources of life in traditional Ireland. Into the 1930s Blasket was very isolated, so islanders had to provide almost all food, clothing and building materials themselves. They were a hardscrabble bunch, but also deeply literate, and they produced some of the most famous books ever written about traditional life.

According to the historian we had on the boat, more than 100 books have been written by or about the Blasket Islanders – An Old Woman's Reflections, by Peig Sayers, and Island Cross-Talk by Tomas O’Croghan are the most famous. They wrote entirely in the Irish language, and today every Irish student studies Peig Sayers' book for their final exams in Irish.

 All around us we saw puffins; I expected to see them nesting on cliffs, but they flew low over the water and touched down, bobbing up and down on the choppy waves to fish for their supper. We got them just in time, as they are already starting to migrate from these islands and follow the seasons. I’m told they alight from their cliff-side puffinaries and gather in large crowds on the sea, called rafts, and boats pull up alongside to watch. We also saw stormy petrels, gannets, shearwaters, fulmars and many more, each getting fish in their own style.

Dolphins began to swim alongside the boat, weaving around each other and racing in the boat’s slipstream occasionally jumping out of the water. They were playing with us.

Finally, we saw the greatest sight of all: several humpback whales breaching out of the ocean, and surfacing quite close to the boat. Pictures never do them justice, as you can never tell the scale of these magnificent animals, so I’ve included a boat to show its dimensions.  

Many thanks to the good people at www.marinetours.ie -- if you're ever in Kerry, look them up.

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