Dunloe - A Sluggish Time in the Reeks
by Ivan Viehoff
The Gap of Dunloe
"Yers won't be getting over dere on yer boiks at all," said the donkey-man. "Dere's no tarmac, and yers wouldn't be believin' the steepness." He was for selling us a trip in his jaunty, lined up with many other horse-and-traps at Kate Kearney's Cottage. Not that you would have much joy in a jaunty were the road so rough. The crossing of the Gap of Dunloe with the "boiks" was an advinture and a divarsion we had come many long Irish miles to enjoy, and we told the donkey-man as much with a laugh. He was disappointed but resigned, as it was but June and few customers were yet circulating.
In truth the wondrous thing about the Gap is that it is not high at all. The McGillicuddy's Reeks gather so hard about that the deep defile can be perceived from a great distance. Should you have the misfortune to be deprived of the refreshing rain which is the first attraction of the region, then you will find its passage most picturesque, especially for the little loughs and the errant cows. Nor will such a smooth route detain you for long.
Soon crossing the Gap, we arrived in Black Valley near Cummeenduff Lough. An interpretation of our historic map was indicating three ways back to Killarney. The half inch maps of Ireland are being discontinued, which is the greatest of shame for they are most pretty to view and a convenient scale for the leisured traveller. It is a hundred years since the survey was done, and despite updating they have their limitation. We were surprised at the small number of tracks that they show. I was for stressing the quality those that are marked must have. I was quick to learn to do otherwise.
The hard miles round the roads were beyond our inclination, and the going back over the Gap would be tame. Thus we were drawn to a short track up the Cummeenduff Glen over to the Caragh River, where we should find a little road going round the backside of the Reeks and not so far at all. For additional divarsion, there was indicated a brief track taking the near side of the Lough, and we set out on this first of all.
A Short Track
The rough tarmac surface turned into a pleasant grassy track by a simple farm-house, where our deprivation of rain was brought to an end. We saw a white-painted gate into a wood, and a break through the trees level and straight as a ruler, but of extreme narrowness. We found it most perfectly covered with rocks the whole length long, and having many puddles between them. These rocks and the narrowness were of ideal dimension to make the wheeling of a bicycle of the utmost awkwardness, and the shin damage regular and painful. Nor were we disappointed in the wetness of our feet and the slowness of our progress.
Beyond the wood is a field of shoulder-high boulders closely pressed together, wherein the rain was falling from the sky in that fashion that attracts visitors across great oceans for the experience of it. Kerry is indeed a wondrous place for the rain. The rain hereabouts is noted for the excellence of its heaviness and the generosity of the intervals during which it can be enjoyed. And the boulders are not lacking in hardness.
Ruth is especially desirous to publish that she is not a bizarre masochist taken to mad exercises in futility, even when she is for enjoying herself. The demonstration of her distaste in the situation can be understood as the natural reaction of a sane person. It is the truth that under all circumstances the map-reader is entirely responsible for the consequences of imaginary tracks having abundant rain and boulders, including sit-down protests, strikes and other forms of mutiny by the sane.
The Great Spotted Slug of Kerry
For the better understanding of the proceeding story, I shall acquaint the reader with the facts concerning the Great Spotted Slug of Kerry. This rare gastropod is only to be found in this county. Indeed its nearest relatives inhabit western Iberia, which has an especial similarity in climate and terrain, if only in the vivid imagination of the zoologists. But most important is the eagerness with which Ruth was looking forward to examining the Great Slug in its natural state, on the grounds of the divarsion which its rareness, its greatness, and above all its spottiness might supply. Thus I accounted myself fortunate to discover the great gastropod in this very boulder field, and indeed I was dishonourably pleased that its situation was forward of Ruth's current sedentary place. I plotted some advantage from this, perhaps a hundred yards' worth. But this fascinating discovery provided little of the effect of which I feebly hoped, such was the continued dampening of the spirits effected by the rain and the boulders. "But the spots aren't round at all," she complained. "They are only little spots. It's not spotty enough."
While I cast around for new ideas, I transported myself to the end of the boulders, expending not a little effort on the way. It was then I had a thought for a new initiative. Thus it was that Ruth's bicycle was also caused to arrive on a piece of smooth, level, firm track not far from the tarmac, without the need for any effort on her part. This gave cause for reconsideration of the situation. Ruth regained her feet and unencumbered by any mechanical transport, of so little utility in that environment, she was soon able to rejoin me in companionship, though not yet in the fullness of her contentment. I was truly sorry that she did not find the local attractions as stimulating as I.
The attentive reader of the Journal may remember tales of the advinture to be gained in crossing the Cummeenduff Glen, though the publication of those harrowing accounts post-dates this little outing. The rain, the rocks, the steepness, and the getting lost provided much divarsion to those travellers, though as they say nothing of Spotted Slugs they might not have had the full experience. But we knew nothing of this, and could see a good grassy track at our feet. In spite of all the hindsight I can now summon up, I have still been known in moments of weakness to regret the sensible, prudent and cowardly decision we made to join the road back to the Gap of Dunloe.
The Journey Back
The heaviness of the rain was then miraculously extinguished. An even greater miracle was the boundless reserves of energy that Ruth then found, such that I could scarce keep up with her on the climb back. She attributes this wonder to her prayers and meditation on Saint Kate Kearney's Tea Shop, though on closer examination of its prices we were not disappointed to find it closed.
Ruth has now, many years later, apologised to me for her behaviour in the boulder field. She has lately admitted that she found a Slug which was greater and spottier than my poor specimen, and thus a cause of greater divarsion to the witness. She did not show it to me, and for this omission she has apologised with due contrition.
"So yers had to turn round and come back then," said the donkey man. "Yers should have been comin' wid me in the jaunty." But how could we have enjoyed the heaviness of the rain, the hardness of the boulders, the contradictions of the map, or the spottiness of the Slugs, in a jaunty?
RSF Journal, September 1997