Hill Walking County Kerry, Ireland

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This April I had the pleasure of returning to west County Kerry, the rural towns my mother’s family came from. An unforgiving but stunningly beautiful land of rock and sea, mountains and mist, the people are warm and open, the sheep are plentiful. It was lambing season, and every field was dotted with babies under bushlike tufts of grass or eager teens bouncing around in springlike legs. I had come through13 years before looking for family members and while that is a long time in one person’s life, it is a blink in a place where Iron Age Stone Forts sitting in the midst of fields, ancient ogam stones stand by the marsh and priest paths still are delineated to be trod by tourists.

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My first day back in Caherdaniel I crashed a funeral, having watched the whole town process across the wide sands of the strand, exposed by low tide to the island cemetery, impossibly timeless sad and beautiful all at once. The reddish wooden casket floated high above a sea of black from my distant vantage point, and I unthinkingly went to the pub, forgetting that that kind of day ends there as well. But I was most welcome of course.

I spent the week hill walking, exploring valleys and mountains, in villages I had seen my last time through and new ones, ending most days at the local pub. With new friends met there, I saw my first Gaelic football match in the impossibly perfect town of Portmagee, two local towns pitted against each other. There was a lot of talk as Sneem and Caherdaniel, the towns of my great grandmother and great grandfather, long rival had recently had to merge as emigration continues to draw the young away for a lack of jobs and any real economy beyond farming and tourism.

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More than anything though it was a week of sky, salty air and reflection. Thinking about family past, far distant and more recent. And how a place can be so beautiful and magnetic and inhospitable at the same time. Mayo has a saying, if beauty were wealth we would be the richest county, and I think its true of Kerry too. These wild places, so stunning and so hard.

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