The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and the Ballaghbeama Gap

The Wild Atlantic Way, Part II: A continuation of my time spent in County Kerry, September, 2018. I recommend you read Part 1 first.

The road leading to the beginning of the Ring of Kerry was virtually deserted that time of morning, bewitching me into believing that the day’s drive would be equally as unchallenging. But once on the Ring, buses sped towards me at regular intervals, passing dizzyingly close. I could not help reacting every time, flinching and often pulling over, to the chagrin of the drivers behind me. Even after five full days, every time any car came near, my eyes told me there was just not enough room on the road for the both of us.

I arrived in Waterville – the halfway point – at about three o’clock in the afternoon. There I stopped for a cup of tea in a café serving only ‘staying’ customers, as evidenced by the large “no takeout” sign hanging beneath the register. The proprietor’s passive-aggressive insistence that his patrons sit to partake of his little slice of Irish heaven brought a smile to my face. For me the break from the stress of driving was a welcomed one, and I enjoyed it at my leisure.

Waterville gained renown as the favorite vacation spot of Charley Chaplin, who often enjoyed its charms when on holiday with his family. There were several photos of him on the cafe walls. I took a short walk along the beach after tea, and even went so far as to participate in a local legend. It is believed that picking up a handful of sand from a beach in Ireland and dividing it in half – reserving some in a bottle and throwing the rest into the sea – will ensure the traveler’s return. Fingers crossed for 2021…

Seashells, sand, stones, and a feather I brought back from the beaches of Ireland, rest in an abalone shell.

In the planning stages of my trip, I learned that the Beara Peninsula (specifically the Healy Pass) was a much more desirable sight than the commercialized Dingle, but at around five o’clock in the afternoon I reached the end of the Ring of Kerry, and on a whim, turned left onto the Dingle Peninsula.

As I drove west, the sky grew progressively darker. A steady rain greeted me in Dingle Town, but I pressed on for a few more miles before realizing my mistake. Having already experienced the difficulty of navigating the narrow streets of Ireland in the dark, I knew that to attempt it with rain too would be madness.

The downpour let up a bit as I headed east, away from the eye of the storm. Relieved, I continued to follow my GPS, pleading with Siri to avoid any gaps. Before I knew what was happening, I had entered the first hairpin turn of the Ballaghbeama Gap. Frantically, I shouted at my phone, “I said no gaps!” But the little wisps of fog trailing into my windshield were the only reply I would get.

Photo courtesy of beckeb00 as posted on Trip Advisor.
Used by permission.

The higher I climbed, the thicker the fog became. The problem of reversing direction seemed insurmountable. Not only was the road narrow and one-lane with nothing but air on either side of each switchback, but the fog made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of my bumper. As if mimicking life itself, moving forward was my only choice.

The darkness grew. I considered contacting my hosts while cursing my lack of a flare. A wry smile crept across my face as I recalled the story they had told me not twenty-four hours earlier about their own search and rescue mission to save a Belgian guest who had lost her way hiking the hills of a similar gap. When it finally it dawned on me that I must be the only one who would dare to brave a gap in weather like that, I relaxed my grip on the steering wheel, at least sure that I would not find myself in a head-on collision.

I have no recollection of how long my slow crawl through the fog-enshrouded Ballaghbeama lasted, but it would be several hours later and a long shot of whiskey before I could calm down enough to sleep. The stress of the ordeal dogged the rest of my trip, and for the first time since boarding the plane to Ireland, I longed for home.

When I finally got around to putting together a photo book and writing down my adventures, it occurred to me the extreme bravery it had taken to make the trip at all. A 50-something woman, driving alone for 11 days through a strange country, willing to blindly follow a map, though it take her through the inky blackness of the Ballaghbeama Gap.

If there is one takeaway from my trip that really meant something to me, it was the realization that I can overcome any challenge thrown my way! Whiskey notwithstanding, I have what it takes to persevere. And at that moment in time, owning a belief in myself meant more to me than a thousand trips to Ireland. I can honestly say today that there was no more defining moment out of that week and a half than the harrowing hours I spent driving through what felt like the valley of the shadow of death. And I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience.

What life experiences have defined you? Or what experiences have shown you an aspect of yourself you had not before appreciated? Share them in the comments, if you like.

Many thanks for reading.