Ireland is green. This barely needs to be said, I’m sure everyone already knows. But it is green, greener than you expect, and as soon as you get off the plane and out in the open under the infinite blue sky everything looks impossibly green, impossibly lush, impossibly…bonny. And on the west coast of Ireland lies the Dingle Peninsula, maybe the bonniest of all, with rolling green hills, rocky crags, mountains, and low stone walls etched across the landscape. From the trailhead at Tralee it is possible to start a trail, an ancient footpath called the Dingle Way, which circles the entire Dingle Peninsula, crossing hill and dale, river and stream, mountain and valley, sheep and goat.
I went there a few years back with two of my least responsible and anti-social friends and as a result I was the one delegated to finding places for us to sleep at night, which involved knocking on farmhouse doors and asking if we could possibly pitch our tent in their fields at night. The Irish being what they are (incredibly hospitable) nearly always said yes, and often gave us food and alcohol and invited us in. I’m not sure if this is something you can count on, but at least on the Dingle Peninsula, we learned that goodness and generosity were easy to come by.
We ended up walking from Tralee all the way to Dingle along the southern coast of the peninsula, which took a few days, and from Dingle we left the trail because of a mountain we saw in the distance that we were dying to climb. We figured we must be somewhere close to the western end of the Dingle Peninsula and, being that we had no map, we wanted to get to the highest point possible to see what we could see. Unfortunately the mountain was actually really big, and because of that it looked a lot closer than it actually was. Finally reaching the foothills and getting over those was pretty tough, and we were all covered in sweat and our legs were burning and quivering with exhaustion. The mountainside itself was pretty steep, and there was a small and little-used trail wandering up it, first through the grassy side but getting rockier and steeper all the way. There was a brisk wind which blew the cold blue of the sky against us and the green grass which responded cordially with a gentle wave. We walked up through the switchbacks, up, and up and up, and we could see the sea behind us and a small and beautifully clean lake retreat under us, and halfway up there was a corpse of a sheep. It was pretty big, and mostly decayed, but you could still see some rancid flesh and wool clinging to the bleached white bones. I took a picture of it and ignored the omens.
Continuing on, we reached a ridge which led to a summit, and on the other side of the ridge was a grassy valley with a little town that I think must be Ballyickeen, the rocky shore, and then the Mighty Atlantic stretching all the way out towards home. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were at that moment closer to home than I had been for a year. I was standing on the westernmost point of Ireland, which is the westernmost point of Europe (apart from Iceland). The sun was still relatively high but starting to sink a little, and this left a brilliant silver-blue sheen on the water just to the right of a few mountainous islands breaking the brilliance with green. We went on up, though the summit was shrouded in mist. Everything up there was wet and cold, and soon we were enveloped in this invasive cloud which sucked the warmth out of your body faster than Death, and we pressed on, getting wetter and colder and feeling the icy water squeeze from the ground and over our shoes wherever we stepped. Then, in the distance, we saw the pillar that indicated the summit. Ignoring exhaustion, hunger, and depression, we felt our way blindly through the fog and made it with honor!
We sat down and my friend Christoph fired up the stove and we ate a can of baked beans. The pillar indicating the summit was only about chest height, and there was a tube through the center of it and openings near the base which must have let out rain water if some flag or something was in the tube on top. The other guy Keith looked at it, and then a gleam of madness came into his eye and he buzzed into the tube on top like into a trombone. It resonated deeply and loudly, the sound going through our very souls. He danced around gleefully after that, singing, “I’m playing a mountain! I’m playing a mountain!”
Soon the extreme cold got to us and we began the descent, though as soon as we were out of the cloud we were reluctant to lose our vantage point from where we could see the entire valley and the cliffs and the ocean and the shore. There were old castle ruins, old rock walls here and there separating one guy’s sheep from another guy’s, and we went down and down and hopped over this wall and down and over that fence and down and down and finally on the road which swept us away to the youth hostel where we collapsed exhausted.
By: Ben Britz, Photos By: Keith Pennington