With landscapes blessed with immeasurable beauty and locals who will engage in jovial conversation until the cows literally come home, the county of Kerry – commonly referred to as the ‘Kingdom of Ireland’ – is where the Irish stereotype seemingly reigns supreme.
“I’ll have a pint of Smithwick’s please.” “Me too,” my German girlfriend nervously interjected, not knowing what she had ordered. The third member of the conversation – a Kenmare publican whose lilting Irish accent had listed the available drinks on offer at a speed akin to an auctioneer looking for the highest bidder – strode confidently towards the bar knowing he had cast himself into yet another comical anecdote.
Now living abroad as part of the far-reaching Irish diaspora, I have quickly learnt about how to field some alarmingly inane ‘Irish’ questions that often get thrown my way: does your brother have ginger hair, or do you have a pint of Guinness for breakfast? Often asked in jest – but not always – one cannot help but think that the image people have in their heads of Ireland and its residents is more leprechaun and less Saoirse and Seán.
Having travelled back to the Emerald Isle recently to introduce my girlfriend to the awe-inspiring nature that epitomises the West of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, I decided not to discuss all pre-conceived ideas that first-time visitors might have, and to instead let this charismatic county and its convivial locals talk for itself.
And what a good choice that was, as amongst the hand-built stone walls, colourful pub facades that read like an address book, and old telephone boxes, there is a charm to rural Ireland that simply can’t be understood until you are there.
And yes, some visitors may cast aspersions on the modernity of the region, but walking down the narrow lanes that are a hallmark of towns and villages in this area hand-in-hand with my girlfriend – with a reliable umbrella in the other – it didn’t feel like a step back in time; if anything, it might just have been a peek into our future.