The further west you go along the Dingle Peninsular, the more Celtic it becomes and the Gaelic language takes over. Almost all place names have a Gaelic alternative but, increasingly, some like my B & B were just Gaelic, and notices or explanation boards would be Gaelic first and “English” second.
Today was my spare day, earned by my speedy crossing of Ireland, so I planned to use it by exploring the hills. One problem had been that Teac Seain B & B only had a vacancy for one night but I had found a vacancy at the Dingle Gate Hostel two miles down the road.
Looking up the weather forecast the previous night it had not seemed promising: light rain from after 9am which turned into heavy rain, a slight remission in the middle of the day then heavy rain again, clearing later in the afternoon. When I peered around the curtains on waking I could see that there was the traditional Irish Mist with very poor visibility. Strangely, it does not seem to be raining but it immediately condenses on you once you start moving and without protection you are soon soaking. I went down for my usual breakfast, loads of cereals, toast, lots of orange juice and coffee and anything else laid out which looked interesting. Here, it was a large individual bowl of yogurt with lots of different fresh fruit and cream. By the time I had packed my panniers and was
ready to go the rain had really set in and the hostel was not open until 3pm.
I discussed my predicament with Kate, the proprietor, who was instantly very sympathetic. She would need the room but suggested that I left my bike in a hallway accessible from the outside and told me of a friendly little cafe along the street. I bought a newspaper in the village shop, ordered a coffee in the cafe and settled down to wait. The only other customers were a couple who had clearly also settled in for a long stay. I tried, unsuccessfully, to send by phone a photograph of what I assumed was a hydrant, to my friend Jim MacTaggart, a friend and very experienced touring cyclist from Kilmarnock in Scotland.. He has cycled across the USA three times, once with his wife Cathy, and it was he who had advised me on my choice of bike for the trip.
The rain seemed to be easing slightly so I went back and collected my bike. Kate (and others) had told me I must not miss seeing the views at Lough Annascaul in the hills above Annascaul, accessible by a narrow lane which climbed up from the main street. I flew up, no panniers, a following wind and extra strength from a month’s touring. The views were magnificent. By now I had another photography problem, which I had met on another wet day in Wales, in that there was great difficulty in taking photographs in bad weather. It had now started raining heavily again, and to unlock the phone I had to have a dry finger and, even if I managed to get it open, if any wet touched the
screen when I was taking a photograph it would not work. I was determined to get a photograph, both up and down the high valley from the loch. The technique was to plunge my finger into my clothes until I found a dry garment, dry the finger and, with the phone as ready as possible, try to shelter it enough to take a photo quickly. After about 10 minutes I succeeded, though now I had much wetter underclothes!
Throughout the village there had been notices and flags about two locals, Colm and Killian, who had been in a competition and I was able to photograph a couple of the signs the next day. They were all in the yellow and green, the colours of Kerry, and, as I had rode up the lane, they had been more splendid and frequent until there was a large flag outside a green farmhouse with detailing in yellow. Speeding back down the lane the rain almost seemed solid but I stopped and, with even more difficulty, managed to get a photo of the flag. Before I could set off, a tractor drew up, and the driver told me it was Gaelic Football and the previous weekend Kerry had won the All Ireland Minor Football Final with the two players from Annascaul in the team. I found out that it was for under 18s and there were 31 county teams. Kerry had defeated Galway 0-21 to Galway’s 1-14 to claim their fifth All Ireland title in a row, the first time this feat has been achieved. A team of the year was chosen, taken from all the competitors in the finals, and this included Colm. Killian had hit 4 points in the final and chosen as Man of the Match.
As soon as I returned to the main street, I headed into the South Pole Inn and managed to find a very quiet corner, order a pint of local beer and started stripping off layers and putting as many of my wet clothes as was decent in a pile hidden against the corner wall so I could begin warming up. It was getting towards 1pm and I ideally wanted to stay there until as near 3pm as possible. It was a big pub and every inch of the wall was covered with items about Tom Crean including many original photos and artifacts, all
of which I examined slowly and carefully; the pub was like a museum.
Tom was born in 1877 and had left school at 14, joined the Navy at 15 and, at 24, he volunteered to join Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole. During the expedition, his 35 mile walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans resulted in his being awarded the Albert Medal. He is probably most famous for Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition, a copy of the request for volunteers I had seen the previous night outside the Inn. The centenary had given rise to a new book, films, TV series, and a large exhibition of the original equipment including the lifeboat. Shackleton had appointed Tom as Second Officer. The Endurance was crushed by a sudden movement of the ice and they dragged the food, gear and three lifeboats for 200 miles across the pack ice and then sailed and rowed the boats for 5 days to Elephant Island hoping for rescue.
Shackleton decided, instead of continuing to wait, to sail a lifeboat the 800 miles to South Georgia. After what was described as one of the most extraordinary feats of navigation and seamanship, and through gales and snow squalls, they arrived on the 10th May 1916 at the island’s uninhabited south coast. With the boat having been damaged and some of the crew unfit to travel, Shackleton decided that the three fittest, himself, Crean and Worsley. should try to cross the 30 miles across the hilly, glaciated surface to a whaling station. It was the first recorded crossing of the mountainous island.
Tom returned to the Navy and, the next year, married Ellen Herlihy of Annascaul. He retired in 1920 and he and Ellen bought the public house which he renamed the South Pole Inn and they had three children. He died in 1938 following a burst appendix.
Although I had not been pressed to order, eventually I ordered fish and chips which was delivered with probably the largest piece of fish I have had with such a meal. Collecting my bike I bought some food for my evening meal later at the hostel where I had booked a room rather than a place in the dormitory. The warden was cheerily informal, seemingly to start almost all his sentences to everyone with an upbeat “that’s no problem” including when it was discovered that I had paid for a room rather than a place in the dormitory. He quickly made up a room which was comfortable, and I later chatted with some of the other guests in the common room/kitchen. The opportunity to meet a variety of people makes hostels popular.