Wednesday 22 July 2015

Blackwater River

Current Location: Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland
Most Replaced Item: Mike's towel - on his fourth: 1 smelly, 1 lost, 1 dish cloth proved too small.
Hardest Item to Replace: A new flouro pennant for the bike's flagpole.

Sometimes it's hard to beat a good generalisation and Judy came up with one the other day.

"There's something wistful about the Irish," she declared, her voice barely audible above the noise of the wind whistling round my ears as we sped along on the tandem.

Strange place names - Ballyhooly was a favourite but there were others such as Ballynaclash, and Knockanore.

I lost the next few words, then heard,"take that man back there, mowing the grass. His kids in Australia, showing no signs of coming home. He was wistful. And there are lots of other Irish like him."

"Are you sure it's wistful? What about sad, or just plain lonely?"

"No, no, it isn't sad," came back Judy's voice. We had slowed and I could hear her better. 

"He was sort of accepting. He was definitely wistful.

Heading north up the Blackwater River on the first day.

I reflected on this and thought about the man with the mower. He had seen us coming, turned off his machine and waited on the verge making it perfectly clear he wanted a chat.

One son in Melbourne, a daughter in Brisbane. He probably thought we were flying an Ozzie flag, not a New Zealand one. Disappointed to discover we were kiwis.

"Nice cities - Brisbane and Melbourne," we told him in an effort to make him feel better. He shrugged, he knew that, he had visited both children recently.

This happened as we spent two and a half days cycling the Blackwater River, from its mouth on Ireland's southern coast near Cork to its upper reaches near Killarney. 

Blackwater River route - approximate

Youghal's clocktower as we ride out of town to follow the Blackwater River upstream.

It was a beautiful, peaceful ride and the weather was kind - or as kind as it gets in an Irish summer.

We had chosen this route after reading about it in the excellent guide book "Cycle Touring in Ireland" by Tom Cooper, who along with GPS George is our new best friend on this part of our travels. 

The mansion of Riverdance star Michael Flatley lies close to the Blackwater River near Fermoy. He's said to have spent €40m restoring the building. Last year burglars broke in and stole €250,000 worth of rhino horns from his private collection.

Tom reckoned that the first day's ride was one of the best day rides in Ireland, and he really sold it to us when he referred to the route as "flat". So we cursed him when we discovered lots of twists and turns and uphill bits. We couldn't get up them in first gear - usually a sign that the slope is more than 10 degrees - and to make it even worse, a couple of the downhills were so steep we had to walk down them to avoid overheating the brakes.

Judy with Helen Lyons who with her husband, run a B and B at Fermoy where we stayed on our first night up the Blackwater. We almost always camp, but occasionally there is nowhere within range. A B and B gives us a night of comparative luxury along with the opportunity to meet the locals. 

That aside, it was all in a day's ride - tranquil surroundings with glimpses of the river, overgrown ruins and some fine, modern properties in the more open countryside.

Overgrown ruins

Quiet roads

On our second night we stayed at a B and B in Millstreet and Judy's generalisation about the wistful Irish looked questionable. Our hosts had two adult sons living in Australia, and they were both planning to come home to live permanently. Other young Irish were doing the same.

Judy with Noelene, our B and B host in Millstreet. She and her husband have two sons in Australia. We spent part of the evening in a local pub where everyone - including us - was glued to the TV watching the rematch of the Gaelic football final between Cork and Kerry.

It was enough to send me off googling "Irish emigration". It took only a few moments to find a news story based on figures from the Central Statistics Office which said the Irish exodus declined for the first time in seven years last year (2014) - down 20%.

But in spite of that, far more Irish left than returned - 40,700 headed off abroad looking for better opportunities compared to just 11,600 who returned.

Nothing new in that, it had been happening for centuries.

Six pubs in a row in Knocknagree, separated by O'Leary's Funeral Parlour.

Back on the bike, we neared the top of another climb and Judy had moved on.

"We have to stop," she announced. "I need a drink of water."

Last view of the Blackwater River as we leave it to ride the last few kilometres to Killarney.

Coffee break


Statue in Gneevgullia, Co Kerry, of Eamon Kelly 1914 - 2001, actor and seanchai (storyteller). Best known for his storytelling on stage, radio and TV in Ireland.

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