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Ireland county Cork

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“What do you mean my explorer doesn’t qualify as carry on. I can carry it” The Aerlingus employee behind the check- in counter stood up and called for security. “Well, what about checking it thru? It’s as tough as those baggage handlers. Just be careful of the duck.”

You’re all saying, ‘No, it didn’t happen that way’, and you’re right. My wife said all in one sentence, “We’re going on vacation and your not bringing that boat.” But, she should know by now with any true kayaker you must be very specific when you’re laying down the law and as soon as we landed I had found a loop hole. She said nothing about borrowing a boat, just not taking one.

I was in Kenmare, county Kerry, Ireland. We had driven down from Shannon to the three beautiful peninsulas of Dingle, Beara, and the Ring of Kerry, on the southwest side of the island that faces the Atlantic. Jim Kennedy is an outfitter in Union Hall in county Cork and a five star coach in the Irish Canoe Union, a hour an a half away. So, I called down to see if he had any trips available and after I told him I probably wouldn’t drown, he let me come along.

The next morning I was on the road that crosses the Caha mountain pass. I was stopped for a herd of sheep that being managed by a dog that probably could get me and my car to jump the ditch if I had a blue paint mark on my back. Down to Bantry Bay and on across to the head of Roaringwater Bay and on to Skibbereen. From there to Lough Hyne and the putin for the day.

Lough Hyne, or Loch Oigheann (Gaelic), is a sea-lake one mile by three quarters with a island castle ruin floating inside. The depth of the lough is 40 meters and holds numerous varieties of sea creatures. The normal tide varies three and a half meters and there is very narrow link between the Lough and access to the sea, 40 feet wide. At this small interchange is a rock ledge that holds all but a one meter rise in sea level. Well then, what about the other two and a half meters of tide variation. When the tide ebbs the disparity between the high level in the lough and the lower sea level make for an ideal saltwater rapid. The tide flows in for only four hours and out for eight and a half in the regular cycle and the rapids reach nearly 16 km. per hour. Predictable year round white ‘salt’ water. Needless to say, even in a long boat, a lot of fun.

Pat was the leader this day, as Jim was on duty with his son for the afternoon. After getting boats and gear together, we, six, took off through the lough and down the outflow to the sea. Pat was conducting an on water class for the others in the group and was very tolerant of my continual playing about any, and every, rock outcropping.

This is literally the furthest south you can go and still be in Ireland. The coastline is as rough and jagged as nature can shape rock. Like rows of teeth in a shark, but just enough between to slide in and out on a mild day. On a surge it might saw your hull neat, coming out a half model ready to display as a wall plaque.

As we approached the cliffs on the far side of the bay, large openings in the vertical walls with shadowy depth appeared. Each arch formation had arms that reached out into the Atlantic welcoming every wave to the mouth, intensifying and focusing the impact. If the sea was angry these caves were hungry.

The first impression as you glide into this cave is the jagged ceiling, not washed smooth by the centuries, coarse angular rock perpetually wet. Then, the sounds from outside are taken over by a wash of intriguing slow rythems emanating from the far dark void. The light is fading to a deep thick blackness. Your mind is now looking for clues as to what surrounds you, yours eyes strained and frustrated. Just ahead you hear the end of each wave as it comes back from the imagined terminus. Your boat is the only familiar sensation and your eyes strain.

Now there are others approaching. Talking to compensate for the uneasy dark and quiet. They have backed in, missing the impact of the enveloping mysteries, always keeping the light in their grasp.

There are a dozen of these features like row houses along the cliffs. Some just a work in progress, others with light at there deep recesses. A tiny beach after a long narrowing tunnel in one. Another aspect worth note, the sun streaming into the opening of one cave revealed the world below the surface to be as intriguing as above. Long kelp danced to each wave as the sunlight reach to a depth equal to the height of the opening as if there were two separate caves. The one above, you used your imagination to explore what your eyes could not see. The one below, you used your eyes to explore where your boat could not go. Both were delectable, a new sense, a taste to take back, like after your favorite meal.

There were few boats in this area, a couple of small beaches. The one that we had lunch on had a work boat moored and as the tide receded, two wheels appeared on the hull. This boat was ready for a long walk to the water at low tide. Someone noticed a visitor as we ate lunch. It was a slender black mink swimming along the shoreline, then up into the thick hedge. Pat said someone had tried to raise mink, but lost a few. He seemed to be happy and prosperous in Ireland, at least he was well dressed.

After a trip across the bay and a visit to another beautiful cave, we paddled up to the rapids again. I could ferry across to the eddies on the other side working my way to within a couple of boat lengths from the start of the white water. Back and forth a few times, it seemed odd to have thick sea weed in the eddies where it was deeper. We had to portage around the rapid to get back into the lough. The folks in the class got a few more lessons from Pat who was a well trained and accomplished coach, a credit to the Irish Canoe Union. I took off for a lap around the Lough as everyone else loaded up, just happy to experience the beauty of the Irish waters.

We would later travel every shore road and lane up the west coast almost bottom to top. This is a very special area, beautiful, desolate in places, a challenging sea scape to be sure. Well worth the effort to find out first hand. Jim and Pat were grand to talk with, the trip was memorable and they were very accommodating. If you visit this should be on the itinerary. I’ll be back.

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