Bye Bye Winter, Hello Biddy

Winter can be an unforgiving time in Ireland given the precarious nature of Atlantic weather systems. So it’s with great relief we welcome spring on 1st February. For our ancestors who lived in a more agrarian society this date was the start of a new farming season and celebrations were held in honour of the Celtic goddess Brighid who was said to have agricultural fertility and protection as her function1. Since the arrival of Christianity to Ireland in the 4th Century the first day of February is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day (Lá Fhéile Bríde), named after the saint that had a similar role as her Celtic goddess equivalent.

The locality of Kilgobnet in Mid-Kerry continues the custom of welcoming the spring by engaging in “The Biddy”, a tradition where members of the community travel from house to house to entertain local residents. All music, song and dance is of the traditional Irish variety. In essence, it’s a travelling carnival and is said to have originated from the pagan festival of Imbolg2, one of the four ancient Gaelic festivals.

Kilgobnet Biddy Group. Masters of dancing in confined spaces.

Kilgobnet Biddy Group. Masters of dancing in confined spaces.

The Kilgobnet National School Biddy which features in this blog post functions as a fundraising activity for school running costs. At this point I must declare my bias as I’m the Chairperson of the school’s Board of Management. The school’s 5th and 6th classes have their own Biddy groups and they fundraise for charities.

The Biddy is led by a captain who decides on the route and houses to visit, and asks permission to enter each house. In some cases the group gets a specific invite to a house or public venue. The Captain carries the group’s sign and is followed by a person holding the Biddy doll, an effigy of St. Brigid. Once inside, the group entertains the residents and departs with a donation.

Captain Danny O'Sullivan leading the way.

Captain Danny O’Sullivan leading the way.

St. Brigid's effigy

St. Brigid’s effigy













The Biddy costume comprises of white trousers and shirt with green and red trimmings. Participants attach a small St. Brigid’s cross over the heart position on their shirts. The costume’s pièce de résistance is the straw Biddy hat, the making of which is a craft in itself.

Biddy hat made from straw

Biddy hat made from straw

Weather is no impediment to this Biddy group although excess rain can damage musical instruments. Kilgobnet’s Biddy comprises of 20-30 people and the camaraderie is obvious. The enthusiasm in both participation and in receiving the Biddy is immense as is the stamina needed by its members to entertain for hours on end.

Such a unique endeavour doesn’t go unnoticed with the Kilgobnet group featuring in mainstream media, most notably on RTE’s main news bulletin3. Sean Hurley of Radio Kerry accompanied the group on the same night as I did for his Kerrywide show4.

St. Brigid’s Cross. Made from field rushes we learn how to craft these in school. It is tradition for houses to display one on St. Brigid’s Day

It’s astonishing to see a sizeable amount of artistic talent in an area with such a small population but this is the result of Kilgobnet’s holistic school ethos. Above all, activities such as the Biddy are part and parcel of our heritage and culture, and the preservation of this tradition is a testament to the strength and spirit of this small but big-hearted community. Long may this community and tradition continue.

© Hazel Joy 2017

  1. The Lore of Ireland: An encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance – Dáithí Ó hÓgáin,




Wild Atlantic Way: Dingle to Tralee

There are two ways of travelling from Dingle to Tralee by road. There’s the N86 which commercial vehicles and commuters use. And then there’s the Connor Pass white-knuckle ride and it’s along this route that the official Wild Atlantic Way travels.

Starting in the Riviera-like Dingle town the R560 road travels in a north-eastern direction snaking up the mountains until the Connor Pass (An Chonair) viewing point is reached. The Connor Pass is one of the highest asphalted mountain passes in Ireland and has spectacular views of Brandon Bay to the north and Dingle Bay to the south.

View of Brandon Bay from Connor Pass

Looking northwards from Connor Pass

Next up, the white-knuckle ride section of the route. Jagged rocks protrude from the mountains for ascending southbound drivers. There’s a 1,000 feet drop into the above-pictured valley for northbound drivers descending the Pass. Neither are great options, hence the need for careful driving skills and putting the word Achtung* on an Irish road sign!

Pic 8

Descending from the Connor Pass

Less adrenaline-releasing options are available by the time the road levels out. The Wild Atlantic Way splits into two routes, both of which meet in Castlegregory. The R560 is an extension of the Connor Pass route but take the R550 road to Brandon (Cé Bhréanainn) and Cloghane (An Clochán) villages to experience one of the lesser-known treasures of Kerry.

Pic 35

Hikers may wish to stay overnight in either village as opportunities for climbing abound. For day trippers I highly recommend the walk to Brandon Point from Cloghane (12km approx) or Brandon (5km approx) as much as I recommend the bakery in Siopa an Phobail Bácús Bhréanainn in Cloghane.

Pic 19

View of Brandon Bay from ascent to Brandon Point

Pic 24

View towards Cloghane & Brandon villages from Brandon Point

If accommodation isn’t available in Cloghane or Brandon then Castlegregory, water-sports capital of Kerry, is the next best bet. Castlegregory’s expansive beach is one of the most popular beaches in Ireland for surfing whilst ex-professional windsurfer Jamie Knox has a long-established water-sports centre on the Maherees, a sand spit which juts out into Brandon Bay.

Pic 38

Fermoyle Beach, between Cloghane & Castlegregory, looking towards Brandon Point

The Wild Atlantic Way continues eastwards towards Tralee in a straight line with Tralee Bay to the left of the route. A trek in Glanteenassig Woods, south of Castlegregory, is another recommended walk as are the Sliabh Mish mountains which skirt along the right-hand side of the road into Tralee. Bear in mind that the area around the Knockmichael peak is reserved by the Defence Forces.

Pic 6

Glanteenassig Woods. There’s a Nordic Noir feel about the place!

Straight road from Castlegregory to Tralee

Straight road from Castlegregory to Tralee

The R560 becomes the N86 at Camp village and soon Blennerville’s windmill is visible. A three minute drive from cozy Blennerville along the canal leads into Tralee town and the journey comes to an end. One blog post doesn’t do this varied and inspiring section of the Wild Atlantic Way a great deal of justice so I will re-visit sections in the future. So see you later…or auf wiedershen as the Connor Pass folk might say!

Blennerville windmill

Blennerville windmill

* German word for Warning

© Hazel Joy 2016


Rebels and Railways

Visitors to Ireland may notice that all mainline stations in cities and large towns are named after people, more specifically, the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, an armed rebellion prior to our War of Independence from Britain (1919-1921). Whilst the Easter Rising only lasted a few days and was a military disaster for its proponents, its legacy was immense, swaying public opinion towards complete independence and leaving us with the Proclamation, the egalitarian statement of principles which independent Ireland is still aspiring to.

Banna Beach

Banna Beach

Whilst the Easter Rising took place predominantly in Dublin, events in Kerry were the starting point for the rebellion. Sir Roger Casement was a Dublin-born British diplomat and human rights campaigner who challenged the social injustices of colonialism around the world. Upon retirement he turned his attention to colonial abuses in his own land and became involved in the Irish nationalist cause, travelling to Germany for help to support independence.

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

A German shipment of arms arrived off the Kerry coast on Holy Thursday night, 20th April 1916, disguised as a Norwegian fishing vessel and named the Aud. Casement travelled from Germany on a submarine and came ashore on Banna Strand in North Kerry with two others, Daniel Bailey and Robert Monteith. The Aud arrived prematurely and was intercepted whilst an ill Casement remained in the Banna area and was later arrested. He was transferred to London where he was found guilty of High Treason and hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 leaders to be executed and the only one who had a public trial. Casement’s efforts of furthering Irish independence are commemorated at Banna Strand, outside Ardfert in North Kerry.

The other significant Kerry-based Rising event occurred at Ballykissane Pier outside Killorglin in Mid-Kerry. On Good Friday, 21st April 1916, five men arrived in Killarney via train from Dublin with the wireless communications station on Valentia Island their final destination. The task of Con Keating, Charles Monahan, Donal Sheehan, Denis Daly and Colm O’Lochlainn was to get hold of a portable radio unit to warn the Aud not to land until Easter Sunday. The men travelled towards South Kerry in two cars with the vehicles becoming separated en route through a series of mishaps. The second car carrying Keating, Monahan, Sheehan and driver Thomas McInerney took a wrong turn in Killorglin and headed straight towards Ballykissane pier where their car entered the River Laune. Only McInerney survived. Their operation failed and the British Navy captured the Aud.


Ballykissane Tragedy Memorial Monument in Killorglin


Killorglin: Road on left leads to Cahersiveen. Road to the right of the orange sign leads to Ballykissane Pier.








Ballykissane Pier with Sliabh Mish mountains in background



The rebellion operation in Dublin was unsuccessful with the leaders surrendering on Saturday 29th April. All but one of the Rising’s leaders were subsequently court-martialled and executed by firing squad whilst thousands of people unconnected with the Rising were interned without trial in prison camps.

Many events have taken and will take place this year to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising including a Full State Ceremony at Banna Strand. As part of the 50th anniversary commemorations in 1966 the State renamed the mainline railway stations in honour of the leaders. Further information on the 1916 Easter Rising can be found on

So it’s only fitting that I finish this post with the list of rebellion leaders and their respective railway stations.

Seven Signatories of the Proclamation:

Éamonn Ceannt – Galway city

Thomas Clarke – Dundalk

James Connolly – Dublin city

Seán MacDiarmada – Sligo town

Thomas MacDonagh – Kilkenny city

Pádraig Pearse – Dublin city

Joseph Plunkett – Waterford city

Other Leaders:

Sir Roger Casement – Tralee

Con Colbert – Limerick city

Edward Daly – Bray

Seán Heuston – Dublin

Thomas Kent – Cork city

John MacBride – Drogheda

Michael Mallin – Dun Laoghaire

Michael O’Hanrahan – Wexford

William Pearse – Dublin city

© Hazel Joy 2016

Wild Atlantic Way: Foynes Flying Boat Museum

When us Irish look out our windows and see the incessant rain belting against the glass we curse our position as a windswept little island in North Western Europe which bears the brunt of unforgiving Atlantic weather systems. On the other hand, our geography has meant the country has played an enviable role in world aviation which remains to this day.

Ireland’s first step into aviation began when John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown landed their plane in a bog near Clifden on the west coast of Ireland in June 1919. Theirs was the first non-stop transatlantic flight having departed Newfoundland, Canada, approximately 16 hours earlier. It took until 1928 for a successful east to west non-stop transatlantic flight to materialise when James Fitzmaurice, Baron Gunther von Hunefeld and Hermann Kohl departed Baldonnell Aerodrome near Dublin on 12th April and landed on Greenly Island, Canada, the following day. Commercial transatlantic flights were now a reality but only seaplanes had the endurance for such a route. In 1935, the Irish, British, Canadian and American governments came to an agreement regarding the transatlantic route with Foynes in County Limerick becoming the European flying boat terminal. Foynes was chosen for its proximity to the sheltered River Shannon estuary.

Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum

Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum

In 1939, commercial flights by Pan American, British Imperial Airways (later BOAC), American Export Airlines and Air France Atlantique began carrying passengers and cargo between North America and Europe. During the Second World War neutral Ireland walked a diplomatic tight-rope by allowing the Allies to transit through Foynes, albeit in civilian clothing.

Replica of a B314 flying boat

Replica of a B314 flying boat

Advances during the war led to the advent of long-haul land planes and, with the opening of a land-based runway at Rineanna on the opposite side of the estuary in County Clare (modern day Shannon Airport), operations at Foynes ceased in 1945.

Original equipment on display

Original equipment on display

In its few short years of operation, Foynes was the epicentre of transatlantic aviation with a VIP passenger list to rival that of modern day Heathrow or JFK. Thankfully much of its activity is preserved at the wonderful Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum located in the original terminal building. It’s the most engaging museum I’ve visited in Ireland and is a must for aviation fans and historians worldwide. It contains a replica B314 flying boat, an excellent audio-visual presentation, flight simulators and a wide selection of original aviation equipment and tools. Cocktail aficionados will be delighted to know that the Irish Coffee cocktail was invented by chef Joe Sheridan at Foynes and, yes, its available to sample!

Irish Coffee 2b

Irish Coffee – Foynes contribution to the cocktail world.

Visitors will learn how our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the day, Eamon de Valera, embraced the concept of aviation through his friendship with pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh. De Valera delegated political aviation administration to Seán Lemass, Minister at the Department of Industry and Commerce. Lemass head-hunted Brendan O’Regan to manage catering at Foynes and when the flying boat terminal closed O’Regan transferred to Rineanna where he set up the world’s first duty free shop. The adept and dynamic Lemass also oversaw the establishment of Aer Lingus and the construction phase of Dublin Airport.

Pan Am's advisory note to personnel regarding alcohol consumption on duty in foreign countries

Pan Am’s advisory note to personnel on duty in foreign countries regarding alcohol consumption.

Ireland continues at the forefront of aviation with Dublin the aviation finance and leasing capital of the world, and Shannon Airport co-ordinating North Atlantic air traffic control with Prestwick Airport in Scotland, to name but a few endeavours. My first thought when I exited the Flying Boat Museum was that of bewilderment as to why Ireland’s pioneering and extensive aviation history was never studied in school. As we progress towards the centenary of Irish independence a visit to this entertaining and educational museum is a must for anyone who wishes to explore the lesser-known part of Irish history, its unsung heroes and its undisputed place on the world stage.

© Hazel Joy 2016

Gambling on WB Yeats

We had been advised to spend the first five minutes of the exam perusing the paper, marking off our choice of questions. I spent the first fifteen minutes of my Leaving Certificate English exam in a state of shock when I discovered that William Butler Yeats, my poet of choice, was nowhere to be found on the paper. Shock developed into panic as I searched frantically for the missing question. Beads of panic sweat joined the beads of thermoregulatory sweat on my forehead: the state examinations have a tendency to coincide with a heat wave. I glanced at the girl in front of me hoping that my Yeats page was stuck in her exam paper but all I saw was a focused student who thrust herself into the task. Had I known that she would complete a PhD in English and become a published author I would not have compared my panic with her composure. For me, the unbelievable had happened. After only studying WB Yeats – he was guaranteed to appear on exam papers every second year – he was replaced with a poet whom I’ve buried in my subconscious. It was my first venture in gambling and I should have spread the bet (i.e. studied more).

You can’t blame me for betting my future on the twentieth century’s greatest writer, Irish Parliamentary Senator, Nobel Prize winner and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, the National Theatre of Ireland. WB Yeats was born in Dublin on 13th June 1865 and spent much of his childhood holidays in his mother’s native county Sligo, a region which provided much inspiration for his later work and is his final resting place.

What has WB Yeats got to do with a travel blog post? Plenty! The Yeats Country trail is an engaging tour of the places of importance in WB’s life. You can begin the trail anywhere but we started in Coole Park, near Gort in County Galway which was home to Lady Augusta Gregory, a life-long friend of WB’s, fellow writer and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. It was at Coole Park that Yeats and the heavyweights of the Irish Literary Revival regularly met, and evidence of their visits are visible on the park’s Autograph Tree into which they carved their initials.

The next stop on our Yeats trail was Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower-like castle near Coole Park and summer home to Yeats during the 1920s. The museum inside the castle gives an excellent insight into the life of the Nobel Prize winner. 2015 sees the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth and Thoor Ballylee will open its doors to the public for the writer’s birthday celebrations (

Next stop on the trail is County Sligo, the heart of Yeats country. The Sligo County Museum has a selection of artefacts covering many facets of Yeats’ life but head for the Lough Gill region to see the landscape which inspired much of his poetry. Here you will find Innisfree, the lake isle of Yeats’ most recited poem of all. Glencar Waterfall and Dooney Rock are also in this area. The poem “Down by the Sally Gardens” was inspired by a song Yeats heard in Ballisodare, a village south of Sligo town. Another site on the Yeats Country Trail is Lissadell House in Balinfull in North Sligo. It was during his childhood WB and his artist brother Jack B met Constance Gore-Booth (aka Countess Markiewicz), a leading figure in the Irish independence, workers and suffragette movements, the first woman MP elected to the British Parliament, and one of the first female government ministers in the world. Our final stop on the Yeats Country Trail was Drumcliffe Church and Graveyard where Yeats is buried. Although he died in France in 1939 his remains were returned to Drumcliffe in 1948 with the following thought-provoking epitaph on his gravestone as per his burial instructions in the poem “Under Ben Bulben”:

Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death.

Horseman, pass by

Yeats’ literary work is impressive on its own earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, Ireland’s first Nobel recipient. The ten years previous to his Nobel Prize were ones of political and social upheaval in Ireland with an unsuccessful but influential rebellion (1916 Rising), a War of Independence (1919-1921) and Civil War (1922-1923). Whilst Yeats was a nationalist he was a cultural revolutionary eschewing violence believing in the power of words over weapons and that from the arts a national identity for an independent Ireland could be formed. Possibly his greatest poem, September 1913, demonstrates this best and is a hopping-mad criticism of a lazy, corrupt and cowardly element in Irish society. The expression “fumble in a greasy till” is still used today in Ireland in reference to corruption.

What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone;

For men were born to pray and save;

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

                        September 1913 (Verse 1)

The Yeats Country Trail covers the landscape which inspired Yeats but he drew inspiration from another source: Maud Gonne, his muse. The unrequited love story filled pages with timeless poems of lyrical beauty and diverse emotions. After multiple proposals from Yeats, Maud Gonne married fellow militant nationalist Major John MacBride and lived unhappily ever after. MacBride was later executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. In an unbelievable twist of fate, the Irish Government Minister responsible for the operation to re-inter Yeats’ remains from France to Drumcliffe was Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne, and also a Nobel Prize winner (1974 – Peace Prize).

Yeats’ legacy is immense and I often wonder if the importance of the arts in Irish society and identity is an impact of Yeats’ literary and non-literary work. The ultimate validation for an Irish writer is inclusion on the Leaving Certificate school syllabus, although the jury is out on whether this removes the enjoyment factor. Yeats gambled on Maud Gonne and I gambled on Yeats. Both of us were disappointed. To paraphrase Yeats, my own life up to that point was a preparation for something that never happened. But Yeats’ loss is the literary world’s gain. Great poetry can be born of much torment and I’ll leave you with the words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who, in the 19th century, was of a similar opinion:

What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.”

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

© Hazel Joy 2015


Wild Atlantic Way: The Great Tour of North Kerry

North to South? South to North? The North Kerry stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way can be travelled in any direction but on a recent trip I started my journey in Tarbert, Kerry’s northernmost town and headed south. Kerry is separated from neighbouring County Clare by the River Shannon and a ferry from Killimer traverses the river bringing travellers to Tarbert in minutes. En route into Tarbert town from the ferry terminal is Tarbert Bridewell, a courthouse and jail built in 1831 by the British but renovated and run by the local community as a visitor centre. It’s well worth a stop as it houses an exhibition on the pre- and post-famine judicial system and how this harsh regime was indifferent to the prevailing local poverty. Tarbert Bridewell also houses an exhibition on local scholar and writer Thomas McGreevey.

Tarbert Bridewell

Tarbert Bridewell

Leaving Tarbert on the R551 my next stop was the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey in Ballylongford. Built in the 15th century this Franciscan Abbey has had a tumultuous history. The grounds serve as a modern graveyard. Below is a picture of the east window, the main feature of architectural importance.

East window, Lislaughtin Abbey

Lislaughtin Abbey – East window

The unassuming village of Ballylongford has some famous sons. Poet and scholar Brendan Kennelly is from the area as were 1916 patriot Michael O’Rahilly (The O’Rahilly) and Lord Kitchener, he of the “Your country needs you” World War I British army recruitment posters.

Outside Ballylongford on the Ballybunion road there is a turn-off for Carrigafoyle Castle. Built in the 15th century the castle was the stronghold of the O’Conor-Kerry clan.

Carrigafoyle Towerhouse

Carrigafoyle Towerhouse

Part of the southern wall of the castle is missing which means one can get a fine cross-sectional view of the inside. Unfortunately dampness pervades the interior and for those with allergies to spores a visit here will require antihistamines and a mask. I’m pretty sure it was here I was bitten in the leg by some winged creature.

Carrigafoyle Towerhouse -  side view

Carrigafoyle Towerhouse – side view

The Wild Atlantic Way forks off from the R551 bringing visitors to Beale. From Beale, the road travels along the coast over fertile agricultural land. The Shannon estuary now becomes the Atlantic Ocean but the County Clare coast is still visible.

The Beale road rejoins the R551 on the north side of Ballybunion, a seaside resort which is as well-known for its boisterous fun as it is for its beautiful blue flag beaches.

Ladies (North) Beach, Ballybunion  - view south

Ladies (North) Beach, Ballybunion – view south

Golfers praise its golf links as being one of the best in the world. Ballybunion was the venue for the 2000 Irish Open and Bill Clinton has declared the course his favourite. And speaking of Bill there’s a statue of him located outside the town’s Garda Station, the first statue of the president on public display in the world. Tiger Woods is also a fan of the town’s golf course.

Bill Clinton statue, Ballybunion

Bill Clinton statue, Ballybunion

If the weather isn’t too inclement the best activity of all in Ballybunion is the cliff walk. Starting at Doon Road on the north side of the town, the loop walk travels across the cliffs adjacent to Ladies Beach/North Beach and finishes further north on Doon Road.

Ladies/North Beach Ballybunion - view North

Ladies (North) Beach Ballybunion – view North

Along the walk numerous geological formations are visible including the Virgin Rock.

Virgin Rock, Ballybunion

Virgin Rock, Ballybunion

The following picture shows both the fine scenery on show and how close to the edge the track is located.

Cliff Walk, Ballybunion

Cliff Walk, Ballybunion

The walk meanders towards Nun’s beach, a beautiful bay accessible only by boat or by abseiling down the cliffs.

Nuns Beach, Ballybunion

Nuns Beach, Ballybunion

The walk finishes by returning to Doon Road and I’ll conclude the Ballybunion section of this blog post by betting that the scenery of this seaside resort will be the most photographed on the North Kerry stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way and deservedly so.

The R551 exits Ballybunion by travelling parallel to the golf links. Outside Ballyduff the Wild Atlantic Way leaves the R551 and travels the Coast Road towards Kerry Head. But take a detour through Ballyduff and visit the monastic settlement of Rattoo Round Tower and Church. Round towers were built in Ireland as early as the 10th century. Rattoo’s structure is impressive and, if in a giddy mood, one could imagine Rapunzel throwing down her hair although, at the time, her mane would get tangled in scaffolding as the structure was undergoing maintenance. The church was accessible so here’s a sneak preview:

Rattoo Church

Rattoo Church

Having rounded Kerry Head, and the Dingle Peninsula now visible, the Wild Atlantic Way re-joins the R551 at Ballyheigue, another seaside resort where the extensive sandy beach of several miles in length joins with the historically important Banna Beach to its south. Walking this conjoined sandy expanse has been recommended. Logistically, this would mean leaving the car in Ballyheigue and returning by taxi from Banna.

Ballyheigue Beach

Ballyheigue Beach

The R551 continues towards Ardfert but the road to Banna Beach forks off beforehand. Banna Beach was where patriot Roger Casement was caught smuggling weapons into Ireland for the republican cause in 1916. Casement was later executed by the British and a large monument to him can be found at the back of the sand dunes south of the main car park.

Banna Beach

Banna Beach

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

Roger Casement Memorial, Banna Beach

Continuing into Ardfert, the town’s most striking architectural feature is its cathedral which was once a monastic settlement of St. Brendan. I won’t describe how to exit Ardfert as its one-way system is the Irish equivalent of the Bermuda triangle. My only advice is to follow the excellent Wild Atlantic Way (south) signs which lead to the village of Fenit. At this point North Kerry runs directly parallel to the Dingle Peninsula, divided by Tralee Bay. The next and final stop on my tour is Tralee, the administrative capital of Kerry, and one of the largest towns along the Wild Atlantic Way. Tralee is home to two of my favourite social outings – the Greyhound Stadium and Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. Designed in the shape of a ring fort, Siamsa Tíre is one of the most appealing modern buildings in the country and is worth a visit for its design alone.

And so my great tour of North Kerry comes to an end. I rigidly stuck to the official Wild Atlantic Way road but feel free to veer off-track. Listowel isn’t on the official route but given its influence in North Kerry and nationally from a literary perspective I simply couldn’t omit a mention and recommend it for a stopover particularly during Writers’ Week. Besides, one-fifth of my previous Wild Atlantic Way blog post is dedicated to its most famous son, writer John B Keane.

Finally, an excellent companion to my grand tour is “North Kerry Landscape”, by Bernadette Tarrant and Gráinne O’Connell. Well-researched with a clear layout the book details the history behind my tour sights plus much more including a piece by writer Bryan MacMahon stating that Tarrant & O’Connell’s publication “should make us far richer in mind, proud also – and enable us to identify with the fortunes and misfortunes, the elations and griefs, the legends and wondertales of the countryside that surrounds us”. I see the Wild Atlantic Way facilitating this enrichment by opening up little-known gems to a wider audience.

© Hazel Joy 2014

Wild Atlantic Way: Notable Kerry People

The Wild Atlantic Way shouldn’t be viewed as just a scenic route alone but a portal into the history and heritage of the places it travels through. In this post, I examine the notable historical figures with connections to the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry. I’ve limited it to five for brevity sake and the selection is a combination of people who achieved extraordinary feats and/or who’ve had an influence on my own life. The list runs from north to south.

John B Keane

John B Keane was born in Listowel in 1928 and worked in a number of jobs both in Ireland and the UK prior to running his own pub in 1955. Regardless of job, the constant in his life was his writing and in 1959, the Listowel Drama Group performed his first play, Sive, which won Best Play at the All-Ireland Drama Festival in the same year. It was a pivotal moment in the Irish arts scene as it was an honest and often humorous exploration of the social issues facing rural Ireland of the day through the timeless themes of love, loneliness and poverty. Sive was the first full-length play I saw on stage and such was the emotional impact it still remains my favourite stage production beating a West End viewing of Phantom of the Opera into second place. John B became one of Ireland’ most prolific playwrights and novelists, and was a favoured guest on radio and television shows for his engaging stories and philosophy of common sense. His play, The Field, was made into a film starring Richard Harris, Brenda Fricker and John Hurt. He won numerous awards and received honorary doctorates for his contribution to the arts. He co-founded Listowel Writers’ Week, Ireland’s premier literary gathering. His observations and insight into the human condition along with his articulation of the truth through his art has been a huge influence on me which is why I chose to include John B in this list over other Kerry writers. He died in 2002 leaving a bulk of literary gems behind. The B in his name was Brendan which brings me nicely to my next noted Kerry person.

John B Keane statue in Listowel

John B Keane statue in Listowel


St. Brendan

St. Brendan was born in the Fenit area north of Tralee in 484. His early education was provided by St. Ide but his seafaring and boat-building skills were honed at the monastic school run by Bishop Erc, the Bishop who later ordained Brendan. St. Brendan travelled extensively around Ireland but his first major sea voyage was to the Outer Hebrides, the Faroe and Shetland Islands as well as Iceland. However, it was the seven year voyage he and other monks undertook in the early 6th century that he is most famed for. Setting sail in a self-made boat of leather and wood from Brandon Creek on the Dingle Peninsula, it is widely believed that St. Brendan and his group of monks discovered America given the evidence written in the Navigatio Brendani (Voyage of Brendan), a manuscript detailing his adventures. In 1976 British explorer and historian Tim Severin re-traced St. Brendan’s journey in a replica boat as per the Navigatio proving that it was physically possible to traverse the Atlantic in such a vessel. More and more evidence is coming to light to prove that St. Brendan reached America several hundred years before Christopher Columbus. In 2011, evidence of a 1521 report by Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera includes a description of a colony of tall grey-eyed European-like people, the Duhare, in the areas that are now the Carolinas and Georgia1. It is alleged that Christopher Columbus researched the Navigatio Brendani prior to his 1492 voyage. St. Brendan died in 577 leaving a legacy of monastic settlements and stories which historians and travellers still discuss to this day.


Tom Crean

A farmer’s son from Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula, Tom Crean was born in 1877 and enlisted into the British Royal Navy at the age of fifteen, lying about his age in order to be submitted. While serving on a naval vessel in New Zealand in 1901 he volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition to the South Pole. He re-joined Scott on the Terra Nova Antarctic expedition of 1910 and was awarded the Albert Medal along with William Lashly for the courage shown in saving Lt. Teddy Evans in physically and mentally challenging circumstances. This experience didn’t discourage Crean as he was selected by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on board the Endurance which became stuck in ice in early 1915. Crean was amongst Shackleton’s group which trekked hundreds of miles across packed ice and sailed over a thousand miles in lifeboats, first to Elephant Island and then to South Georgia in some of the toughest sea conditions ever experienced. It is said that Crean’s physical and mental strength, along with his seamanship and good humour added greatly to all three polar expeditions. In 1920, he retired from the British Navy on medical grounds and returned to Annascaul with his wife and children to run a pub which he called “The South Pole Inn”. His reluctance to speak of his achievements was due possibly to the prevailing republicanism in Ireland at the time, which rejected all things British, rather than Crean’s own modesty. As a result, his feats have never been officially recognised and most people had never heard of him until the publication of Michael Smith’s biography, An Unsung Hero, in 2000. Tom Crean died in 1938 from an infection caused by a delay in treating a burst appendix.


South Pole Inn, Annascaul

South Pole Inn, Annascaul


Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty

Out of my list of brave and brilliant Kerry people, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty is the only one to have a film made out of his exploits, that being the 1983 production The Scarlet and the Black with Gregory Peck playing the title role. Born in 1898 in his mother’s native Cork, the Monsignor grew up in Killarney where his father worked at the Golf Club instilling a lifelong love of the sport in the young Hugh, an interest which served him well in diplomatic circles later in life. He was ordained in 1925 and served in Egypt, Haiti, San Domingo and Czechoslovakia for four years before returning to the Vatican. In 1934 he was appointed Monsignor. Witnessing the widespread anti-Semitism around Rome in 1942, the Monsignor arranged for the Jewish community to be hidden in Catholic Church properties. When German forces occupied Rome in 1943, Monsignor O’Flaherty extended his operation to include Allied servicemen. His actions came to the attention of Nazi Commander Herbert Kappler who ordered the capture of the Monsignor should he step outside Vatican grounds. O’Flaherty defied and duped the Nazis by travelling throughout Rome in a variety of disguises. By the end of World War II it is believed that the Monsignor helped 6,500 Jews and Allied servicemen escape the clutches of the Third Reich. For his bravery, he was honoured by several countries, receiving the US Medal of Freedom, made a Commander of the British Empire and deemed Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. In 1960, he retired to Cahersiveen due to ill-health and lived with his sister until his death in 1963. He is buried near the main entrance of the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in Cahersiveen. Like Tom Crean, the Monsignor has never had official state recognition for his achievements although, in Killarney, a memorial and mural celebrate his life as does the annual Hugh O’ Flaherty Memorial Weekend held in October/November.

A humanitarian of extraordinary courage, more information can be found on the official Memorial Society website

Monsignor O'Flaherty grave, Cahersiveen. (Picture courtesy of Kathleen Rice)

Monsignor O’Flaherty grave, Cahersiveen. (Picture courtesy of Kathleen Rice)


Daniel O’Connell

Daniel O’Connell was born in Cahersiveen in 1775 and was schooled in France, with his wealthy uncle Maurice “Hunting Cap” O’Connell in Derrynane acting as benefactor. Whilst in France he witnessed the French Revolution. Appalled by its violence he adopted a pacifist approach to Ireland’s struggle for freedom from the British. He trained and worked as a Barrister gaining a reputation as an eloquent yet fierce adversary. He became involved in politics and campaigned for the betterment of Irish Catholics, most notably Catholic Emancipation which would allow Catholics to become members of parliament. In 1828, O’Connell was elected to the British Parliament for the County Clare constituency but was unable to take his seat as the Emancipation Act was not retrospective. Another election was held with O’Connell topping the poll. O’Connell acquired the name “The Liberator” for this achievement and continued legal work and political campaigning. His desire for a separate parliament in Ireland (Repeal of the Union with Westminster) was a step too far for the British and he was imprisoned for such a campaign. He died in Genoa in 1847 on route to Rome with his heart buried in the Italian capital and the remainder of his body interred in Glasnevin Cemetary, Dublin, the non-denominational burial ground which O’Connell campaigned to establish. His non-violent methods have inspired leaders and humanitarians around the world including Gandhi, Martin Luther King and US anti-slave reformer Frederick Douglass, whom O’Connell became acquainted with. The Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in his native Cahersiveen is the only Catholic Church in the world to be dedicated to a lay person. Derrynane House, O’Connell’s home, is now opened as a National Historic Park.

Daniel O’Connell, the only one of my five to be featured on Irish currency gracing the £20 note prior to the Euro.

Daniel O’Connell, the only one of my five to be featured on Irish currency gracing the £20 note prior to the Euro.


All five above have lived outside of Ireland at some stage of their lives which raises the question as to whether time away from Ireland is the best way of understanding it. But it’s the courage, honesty and leadership which all five displayed in the achievement of their feats, traits which are sadly seen as impediments to success nowadays. The ability of the above five to take action and inspire others only highlights the weakness in character of modern life’s procrastinators and self-serving yes men. If role models are needed to reverse this trend then look no further than John B, Tom, Brendan, Hugh and Daniel.

I hope this blog post is informative and entertaining. But most of all I hope my choices and conclusion encourage debate. So let the courage and honesty begin.


© Hazel Joy 2014