II close my eyes and picture the emerald of the sea. From the fishing boats of Dingle to the shores of Donaghadee I miss the River Shannon and the folks at Skibereen The moorelands and the meadows with their Forty Shades of Green.
These were words sung by Johnny Cash in his song, Forty Shades of Green, redolent of his beautiful country, Ireland, known as "Eire" by the locals. Though the folks at Skibereen remain elusive to me, their hospitality and Guinness yet to be tasted, Ireland's "Forty Shades of Green" did not elude me. Ireland is all about landscape. Its forests and meadows are some of the lushest I've seen, drenched with foliage, ferns and wild grasses. The colours brown or grey aren't given a chance here. Tree branches, rock faces and the earth are air-brushed with a thin layer of electric green moss. Here, in a hidden glade or a heathery outcrop, it is easy to imagine a lurking Leprechaun. The small, mischievous, impish figures from Irish mythology, if caught, are said to grant three wishes, and can be persuaded to show you the way to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
We based ourselves in Kenmare, at the Park Hotel, gateway to the west coast's legendary peninsulas and their scenic, circular drives. The most captivating ones are the Dingle, Iveragh and Beara peninsula. Out west, craggy cliffs wrapped in yellow-lichen were abutted by the animated Atlantic Ocean. Seals skirmished on rocks while puffins, fulmars and other seabirds nested and cavorted on the off-shore isles called the Skelligs. Driving inland, the deep, rolling valleys were dotted with cows and sheep. Lone homesteads spoke of city-bound families that have eschewed traditional animal husbandry and farming in favour of newer, more lucrative professions. The sweeping, hauntingly beautiful downs and wetlands that once attracted monks and poets now see visitors from far who come to imbibe the plaintive solitude and recharge their spirit.. American and Australian descendants of the Irish who left at the time of the potato famine often make their pilgrimage to this land, looking for villages and names, fragments of past connections. They, along with other visitors enjoy Ireland's castle hotels, myriad golf courses and pubs enlivened with music at night.
In the evenings, we'd walk into the endearing, two-street town of Kenmare. Its amenities shops gave up trying to service the locals a while ago, and instead appeasing the visitor. The line-up of gaily painted bars and restaurants elicit photography and satisfy the eye. Here, between a bowlful of hearty Irish stew and fresh seafood, you can get an earful of Gaelic, and hobnob with the locals late into the evening as hops and uilleann pipes slowly weave their magic.
Johnny Finnegan, a resident of Kenmare spoke wistfully of the boom Ireland had experienced from the influx of European Union funds. "If I had three wishes, he said, "I'd want to see us united with Northern Ireland, have less rain, and for time to freeze three years ago, when unemployment was not an issue."
But then again, this is Ireland, and for Johnny, it is just a matter of catching a Leprechaun.