ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #11 – Skibbereen to Dingle

August 07, 2016  •  1 Comment

May/June 2016

ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #11 – Skibbereen to Dingle

Map of route for Day 11

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This was another travel day for us as we made our way from Skibbereen to the town of Dingle on the famous Dingle Peninsula where we would spend the next three nights.  From Skibbereen, the Dingle Peninsula is 5 peninsulas to the North up the West side of Ireland.  Our route took us by Bantry Bay, Glengarriff, over the Caha Mountains, through Kenmare, over the Macgillycuddy's Reeks (mountains), through Kilarney National Park and on to the town of Dingle.



While Bantry Bay is well represented in Celtic music, our journey just touched it for a very short distance and we didn’t stop.  However, it seems to have been the site of a major Navel battle.  The aptly named Battle of Bantry Bay was a naval engagement fought on May 11, 1689 during the Nine Years' War. The English fleet was commanded by Arthur Herbert, 1st Earl of Torrington; the French fleet by François Louis de Rousselet, Marquis de Châteaurenault. Apart from the inshore operations at La Rochelle in 1627–28, the Battle of Bantry Bay was the first time English and French navies had met in fleet action since 1545.  The outcome was somewhat inconclusive.

Fishing boat in Bantry Bay

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The name Glengarriff is derived from the Irish Gleann Gairbh which translates as the rough or rugged glen. The setting of Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve is spectacular, with the woods nestled in a sheltered glen opening out into Glengarriff Harbor which in turn goes into Bantry Bay.  Above the woods rise the Caha Mountains, with their dramatic layers of sheer rock.

Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve covers a bit over 1 square mile, with the dominant habitats being old oak woodland and young woodland which is regenerating in areas which have been cleared of non-native conifers over the last few years. The woods form one of the best examples of oceanic sessile oak woodland in Ireland.  At one time the woods were part of Lord Bantry’s estate, but they were handed over to the State in 1955. 

View of Glenngarriff Harbor and Bantry Bay over Glenngariff Woods

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After cresting the Caha Mountains which form the spine of the Beara Peninsula, and crossing over from County Cork to County Kerry, we descended into a lush Irish valley.  As the River Bearearagh runs down this valley I presume the valley has the same name.  The Molly’s Farm  historic site is actually very well done.  It is a house/cottage and farm of Molly Gallivan from 200 years ago and consists of cottage/house now used as a shop and a farm yard with various buildings and interesting attractions.

Molly was born in the 1840’s but the exact year is unknown and died in 1918 so she lived a pretty long time for that era.  She lived on this farm with her husband Patrick and 7 children.  But, Patrick died young leaving Molly to fend for herself.  As luck would have it around the same time that Patrick died, they built the road linking Glengarriff to Kilarney that went right by the front of Molly’s house.  As both these towns were big with the tourist trade for the well healed there was lots of traffic going by her house.  So to sustain herself and those 7 kids in addition to running the farm Molly continued Patrick’s “business” of making poitin (pronounced as pu-chin), which is a very potent whisky and also started making knitted goods that she would sell to people passing by.  She sold meals and provided singing and dancing as entertainment for guests. 

The making of this Poitin moonshine, which garnered the name of “Molly’s Mountain Dew”, was somewhat illegal so had to be done more or less out of sight of the law – the worst of which was the church.  As was the custom of the time, at the end of services each Sunday, the parish priest would announce the names and sins of people who had transgressed.  Being pointed out in this manner was worse than being caught by the cops as you would be ostracized by your neighbors and you could say goodbye to any help or assistance from the community for anything that might come up.  But, as it turned out, the local parish priest, father O’Conner, gave more time visiting Molly than anyone else in the parish.  I guess they discussed important religious matters but the upshot was that Molly’s Poitin business was never mentioned in the church.

A decade or so ago the farm, including the tumbledown 200 year old cottage/house, was scheduled to be bulldozed to make way for some modern enterprise.  When this became known, a local family realized that Molly’s was one of the last remaining original farms of its type left in Ireland and that it should be saved.  So, they pooled their resources, and were able to purchase the house and land.  But, this pretty much wiped out their savings so they decided to restore the farm to what it would have been like 200 years ago and open it as an historical site for tourists to visit.  They quite their regular jobs and devoted full time to restoration and running tours.  I must say they did a really fine job. 

In addition to the 200 years old house/cottage, they have farm animals  and traditional farm machinery. You can roam around the farm on your own, or take one of the excellent guided tours where you will also visit the ghostly ruins of a family dwelling from the era of the Great Famine as well as a Neolithic Stone Row that forms part of an ancient sun calendar.

The house/cottage was originally a single story thatched cottage, half of which still stands today. It was raised and slated in the early 1900s and was home to one of Molly’s descendants, Jeremiah, until his death in 1997. The farm is typical of a small holding of land rented from the local landlord. Large families were expected to eke out a living from a few acres (perhaps 5 to 10 acres in total) of often poor land. Molly would have planted up to an acre of potatoes to feed her family as potatoes were the main element of the diet at the time. She would have also reared a pig or two for meat, a cow for milk, hens and chickens for their eggs and a donkey for doing work around the farm. The Farm has changed little since Molly’s time, and is a reminder of harsh times endured by our ancestors..

On the 40 or so minute tour of the farm, they take you to various locations where the current owners are still operating the farm as had been done 200 years ago.  Among the areas is the family well, farmyard with various farm animals and habitat (pig sty, hen house, hay shed, sheep house, etc.) and a garden that provided non meat components of their meager diet. 

A little farther along, up the hill a bit, is an oat & barley or wheat field.  The Oats were used to feed the livestock and the barley or wheat was used to make flour for baking.  However in Molly’s case these grains also found their way into her homemade whisky the illegal sale of which supplemented the family income.  The straw from these grains was also put to use as thatch for the roof and for bedding.  As it turns out oats and wheat are very hard to grow in the poor soil and very reliant on good weather so more often than not those crops amounted to nothing.

Along the way we passed the ruins of a famine era farm house (about half the wall height is still there).  Before the famine families were forced to eke out an existence on very small and poor parcels of land by growing mostly potatoes and perhaps raising a pig or a couple of chickens.  This family that lived in this particular house had 12 kids (those winter nights must be long).  Rent or taxes on such places we paid to the landlords.  The amount you had to pay was based on how much land you had and how big our house was – even if you built it yourself out of rocks you cleared yourself from the fields.  But the rent was also based on the number of windows you had, and the number of chimneys.  So, many houses put the hearth outside where it wouldn’t need a chimney, and built the house with only one or even no windows.  This is where the term “daylight robbery” came from.  It is also where the split door came from.  With a split door you could open the top to let in light but keep the bottom closed to prevent critters from getting in.  If you missed a rent payment you were thrown out and they would burn the roof off to keep you from moving back in.  In some cases the landlord would make you tear down the house you had built.  However the famine caused a great change to this model.  Many families starved to death or immigrated to other countries leaving their abandoned farms to be incorporated into a neighbors land.  So, what is now one farm would have been 2 or 3 separate farms before the famine.

Famine House Ruin at Molly’s Farm

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p on the hill is a Neolithic Stone Row alignment (3000 BC). It consists of two large flag stones that were placed and propped into position. They form part of a very rare ancient sun calendar. The stones may also mark burial or ritual sites.  At the time this Stone Row was created they used an 8 month calendar.  Two of the months started on the solstices and two on the equinoxes with the remaining 4 half way between.  So, each month was about 45 days.  There was a religious festival at the beginning of each month, one of which evolved into Halloween.

At Molly’s is also the site of an old Lime Kiln along with a Peat Bog where they showed us how peat is harvested for burring in the fireplace.  When we were in Ireland in 1981 as we drove around, most houses in the countryside had a wisp of smoke coming out of their chimney and there would be a constant aroma of peat being burned.  But now there is none.  One of the reasons has to do with EU.  It seems that among other things the EU has an entire heritage committee which adopts rules and regulations for all the EU countries designed to protect the cultural heritage of those areas. Well, it seems that they established Peat Bogs as an important part of the heritage so to protect the remaining peat, they banned it from being dug or harvested.  This of course pretty much put a stop to people using it for heat and cooking which is why we no longer have that aroma throughout the Island.  Molly’s, as an historical site, and as such got permission to continue harvesting peat on the farm grounds and burning it as an historical demonstration.

One of the last spots we visited on the tour of Molly’s was the Poitin still.  Here Molly distilled her renowned homemade brew.  The potatoes or barley were first fermented with sugar and baker’s yeast in large barrels to give “the wash”. It was then heated over an open peat fire distilled through a “worm” or coiled copper pipe to give a clear but potent whiskey.  This operation is still going on and everyone got a taste right out of the still.

Molly’s Farm House

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Bike & Flower at Molly’s Farm

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Molly’s Farm Yard

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Barn at Molly’s

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Molly’s House/Cottage

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As we continued into Kenmare we joined up with the famous “Ring of Kerry” scenic drive.  The Ring of Kerry loops around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry.  It is a 110 mile (179km) circular route that is said to be the most scenic drive in Ireland and in fact is known worldwide.  Along its route it takes you through rugged and verdant coastal landscapes and rural seaside villages.  We stayed with the Ring of Kerry through its eastern section as we crossed the Iveragh Peninsula.  This section took us from Kenmare, over Molls Gap, through the Kilarney National Park and we left it where it turned west along the South shore of the Dingle Bay and we continued on to the north side of the Dingle Bay.

Kilarney National Park (on the Ring of Kerry) sits south and west of the town of Kilarney in an expanse of rugged mountains. This includes the McGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland which rises to a height of over 3200 ft (1000 meters) which really isn’t very high as mountains go worldwide.  At the foot of these mountains is the world famous Lakes of Killarney. Here the mountains sweep down to the lake shore, their lower slopes covered in woodlands.  This is where the 26,000 acre Killarney National Park is as well as Muckross House and Gardens.  The distinctive combination of mountains, lakes, woods and waterfalls under ever changing skies gives the area a special scenic beauty.

We didn’t stop at Muckross but drove right past it.  As we had already known, Muckross House and Gardens was the model for the Filoli Estate which is only a few miles up the road from where we live in California.  It would have been nice to spend some time there but any visit of less than several hours I’m sure would have been disappointing and our itinerary didn’t have a half day or more of time for it.

The nucleus of the National Park is the Vincent Memorial Park which was presented to the Irish State in 1932 by Senator Arthur Vincent and his parent-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn in memory of Senator Vincent's late wife Maud.  Killarney National Park contains many features of national and international importance such as the native oak woods and yew woods together with an abundance of evergreen trees and shrubs and a profusion of bryophytes and lichens which thrive in the mild Killarney climate. The native red deer are unique in Ireland with a presence in the country since the last Ice Age.

Killarney National Park was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1981 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), part of a world network of natural areas which have conservation, research, education and training as major objectives.

Harbor at Kenmare

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Highway coming down from Molls Gap

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Molls Gap

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Coming into Kilarney National Park

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Upper Lake, Kilarney National Park

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Upper Lake in Kilarney National Park from Ladies View

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Upper Lake, Kilarney National Park

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After a long day on the bus, we finally turned west along the south shore of the famous Dingle Peninsula as we headed to our next hotel in the town of Dingle. 

The Dingle Peninsula sticks out into the Atlantic in an east-west orientation.  To the south of the peninsula is Dingle Bay.  About two thirds of the way into the bay from the ocean is another peninsula sticking straight down into this bay, perpendicular to the main Dingle Peninsula.  This one is called Inch Peninsula.  The entire western edge of the Inch Peninsula is a broad white sand beach called Inch Strand which is a popular place to learn how to surf.  In fact there are several surf schools present there. 

When we arrived around 5:00 pm, it was quite overcast and had started to drizzle a bit.  In Ireland they call this a “soft day”.  Not enough to need a rain coat but enough to have most of the other people on the beach call it a day.  So the beach was quite lovely in its more natural state – without a lot of people. 

Inch Strand

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Some of the very few boulders on Inch Strand

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Back toward Dingle Peninsula from Inch Strand

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South shore of Dingle Peninsula

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Patchwork Farmland on Dingle Peninsula

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This brings us to the end of our 11th day (4nd day on formal tour).  Well, the weather has finally become more Irish like with overcast skies and a light drizzle from time to time.  Not that we were there for all of it, but today ended a 14 or 15 day streak of rainless days in southern Ireland which shattered the prior record of about 6 days.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.


Tomorrow we’ll be touring several sights at the Western end of the Dingle Peninsula

I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future trips.  

- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.



The Ireland blog series can be found here:


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Thanks for reading -- Dan


Sandy Pickett(non-registered)
Sure looks like a !great trip
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