I heard how a bus driver stopped on the Ring of Kerry, forced four cars to back up while telling his passengers that the stupid drivers were going the wrong way and everyone knows that you must drive round the Ring to the right. When I reached the ring I went right, drove through Killorgan and within twenty minutes hit the first tourist experience, The Red Fox Inn and Kerry Bog Museum.
Two coaches were outside the inn, but my curiosity to explore a Kerry Bog Village overwhelmed my instinct to drive by. German tourists swarmed over the Inn drinking Irish Coffee but the village was almost empty.
Around a central space were well presented dwellings of a labourer, a turf cutter and a blacksmith as well as a Romany or Irish Traveller’s caravan. Dominating the centre was a memorial to Michael (Scairt Fisher) Clifford and a statue of a rampant goat. The two are connected; Clifford had bred goats.
Michael O’Connor, who tells me he is often at the Red Fox, described Michael Clifford, the Scairt Fisher, as a tall good looking man, over 6 foot 2 whose business was the tourist trade. He distilled poteen which he sold on a corner of the road about a mile away from the Red Fox. “The man had the biggest off license in the world.”
He wasn’t sure which was Clifford’s main trade living by distilling potten or by illegally netting the salmon in the Carragh river. He would pull out 10-15 at a time. He sold the fish to the tourists too. Over his lifetime he created a herd of 100 goats, which he controlled with his voice and “cats followed him everywhere”.
Moving away from creating an image of a rapscallion, O’Connor said how much he admired him as a charming, wise and gentle man who never went to school. “Once I asked him why not and he replied, ‘I never learned from another man’s book. I kept my mind pure for inspiration.’”
The cottages were clean; fires burned, piles of peat were neatly stacked, utilitarian furniture, simple utensils and china were on display. The sense of hardship, the grinding poverty of the families, who lived in these overcrowded spaces gradually grew as I moved from cottage to cottage. In one, the human living area and that of the family pig and cow were in a space about 15 foot square. Imagine eating your supper with a cow poohing a few feet away! Imagine the smell of livestock constantly present. Imagine the state of those men, women and children with no running water, no easy means to keep clean, living in small, slate floored, cob walled botheys thus in Kerry where it seems it never stops raining! In such a world, how differently did they live? Did hardship create greater kindness and understanding toward one another? Or did it lead to bullying, theft, casual destruction of each other’s hopes and dreams let alone physical state.
Outside there were two very idle massive Irish wolfhounds, who shuffled over to trade sniffs with Lucy. Wolfhounds were owned by Irish Kings and over lords who used them as status symbols and a little for hunting. They are not much good at hunting, they are too big and clumsy.
They are very hairy, large and tend to die young.
More interesting were the Kerry Bog Ponies. In such an environment ponies and donkeys were essential for transporting people and turf, tilling, ploughing the ground and harvesting crops. The Kerry Bog pony Is a small creature around 11.2 hhs known for obedience and gentleness. Like the Exmoor and the Dartmoor they are sure footed and immensely strong. They would have been an important part of a family even more essential than the pig and cow.
Where the Scairt Fisher used to sell his poteen were Irish Travellers selling trinkets, showing off goats and a rather sleepy dog on a donkey. The Irishman showed off his fierce dog and thrust him toward Lucy aggressively. She instantly attacked in defence and the man and dog disappeared fast.
You don’t mess with a Lucas Sporting Terrier!
Cahirciveen and The Killarney Kid
August Bank Holiday and Festival time in Cahirsaveen, which is one of the bigger towns on the Ring of Kerry. Its long main street was dotted with little groups outside pubs and bars singing and supporting buskers. There was a Fife and Drum band outside the Oratory, men walked by on stilts, oysters and Guinness were on offer. The vast stage in the centre of town was prepping for the evening’s act ACDC.
Four cowboys stepped into the road stopping the traffic. 100 yards away the Killarney kid was similarly holding up the horsepower as he walked toward the sherriffs hurling abuse and creating a showdown.
The Kid, adopting the John Wayne swagger, strode centre road, twirling guns to face four less made up- more ranger like cowboys. Cars stopped, pedestrians stared, there was shooting and screaming, cameras clicking and dogs barking. Within minutes the cowboys were dead and the Kid strolled away blowing the non-existent smoke from his guns.
The toothless old man outside the Anchor picked up his banjo and began to sing once more in a reedy cracked voice, a small boy beat the drum.
People turned back to their Guinness or beer or wine and I drove on to Valentia Island.