Sea spray and gales ensure the way to Caherdaniel is truly wild

 

ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY: The Allihies Copper Mine Museum shines under a steel-grey sky – and there is no reprieve from the rain

NOW I understand why they put the wild bit into the title.

Yesterday morning as the dawn crept in through the window of the Convent hostel in Castletownbere (exhaustion got the better of me; Allihies could wait a few hours), it was clear that the summer was over.

Well, for one day at least.

Castletownbere harbour, a serious, working fishing port on the other side of the window, was enveloped in steely grey low cloud and everything looked exceedingly wet.

And so yesterday, it rained and rained and rained, and then rained a bit more, in the southwest. And the wind blew; not a constant gale, the sort you could lean into on the bike and just get on with it. This was a gusty, swirling gale, whipping in off the sea, that Wild Atlantic with its white horses and sea spray, and pummelling everything in its path.

After the short ride to Allihies (via the cable car launching point to Dursey island where, yet again, the Dutch bikers arrived unexpected!), the Copper Mine Museum and cafe proved too enticing to resist.

“There you are,” said Karin as she placed a feed of tea and toast, with lashings of butter, and a plate of scrambled egg in front of me. “An extra big portion to make up for the weather.”

Karin’s smile, laugh and general cheeriness had already done that.

Karin is Karin Grace, and the tiniest hint of an accent reveals she’s from Switzerland but has been in Allihies for many years. She and others from the Parish Co-op run the museum ( acmm.ie) and its cafe.

It was opened in 2007 by Mary McAleese and tells the story of the copper mining in Allihies in the 19th century. Today a tiny village of (at a guess) perhaps 50 or more houses and cottages perched on the edge of the Atlantic, it is extraordinary to think now that in 1842, there were 1,600 people employed in the mines, churning out, in 1863, 8,358 tonnes of ore.

Many of the miners came from Cornwall and when the Allihies mines closed in 1885, some went off to the mines in Butte, Montana. There’s one family left in the village with a direct connection to that past: two brothers, Tommy and Willie Hodges, two Protestant farmers (the only ones in the area apparently, says Karin), whose ancestors were among those who came over from Cornwall to work in the mines.

In the 1990s, the community started thinking about the leftover bits of the mines – the stamping mills, power houses, distinctive chimney stacks and other stone buildings scattered around on the skyline – and how they might be preserved.

A local painter, Charlie Tyrrell, mentioned a museum. Eyes lit on the redundant Church of Ireland church, originally a Methodist church for the Cornish miners and, one thing led to another with the result that today, the community has a really fine asset that tells its story and attracts visitors aplenty.

“We’re doing okay,” says Karin. “It’s making money. Because it’s a community project, we all have to do some work but it gives the village a focal point. It gives people a reason to stop. In the winter, we put on concerts so it’s a cultural venue, too. And we hire it out for private functions.”

The place gave me a warm glow. Karin put herbs and garlic into my lovely scrambled eggs. Burping along through the infernal rain, they stayed inside my helmet all the way to Kenmare . . .

I guess because I was motor biking the Wild Atlantic Way, I couldn’t go past The Atlantic Bar in the town. It was an excuse to shed the soaking gear and dive into a steaming plate of Irish stew. Just the thing for a ferocious day . . . in November (good value too for €10).

Jackie Healy-Rea holds a clinic there on Saturday nights. Thanks be to God yesterday was Thursday but I’m sure if I’d asked him to stop the rain, he’d have written a letter to the Minister.

The lady behind the counter in the Spar next door put a brave face on it all. “A really terrible day at all,” she announced in that pointy, high-pitched way Kerry people have of talking.

“Hey,” said an American lady buying sweets, “I’m on my holidays and every day is just Gerr-Ate!” The yanks – eternal optimists.

The magnificent, breathtaking scenery of the Ring heading west to Sneem can’t hide the fact that it is still pouring. On the way into the village, there’s a ghost estate, Cúl Fadda, and local Tidy Towns people had the bright idea of cheering it up with ironic but brightly coloured pictures of that long vanished tiger of old. Where has the tiger gone, ask the paintings by young people? Do you know the answer, asks a sign which then says simply, enjoy! Down at the very tip of the peninsula at Caherdaniel, the Ring’s biggest story, that of Daniel O’Connell, the 19th-century barrister and non-violent nationalist who achieved Catholic emancipation, is told at his old summer home of Derrynane.

The house is lovely – well proportioned, well preserved and well presented – and is full of paintings and interesting memorabilia from his stirring career.

He loved the place. “The finest scenery. The most majestic in the world,” O’Connell said.

And after his beloved wife Mary died prematurely, he lamented her absence and remarked on “the ever dashing billows of the Atlantic”. Around the corner is Waterville. What more appropriate place to stop for the night?

Tomorrow: Waterville to Artfert, via Dingle