SOME fifty years ago, when I blazed the trail of hundreds of miles of Irish roads in an early motor, the roads were little better than rough narrow dirt tracks, terribly dusty and full of potholes which used to be repaired by the simple expedient of putting in a shovelful of gravel which the next ass-cart instantly deployed across the surface. This simple reparation was aptly termed “darning. Now there are thousands of miles of wide roads, many of which are graded and well surfaced, and have had antidust treatment.
The nature of the traffic has also changed; instead of ass-carts and jaunting cars (very few of the latler seem to have survived) the traffic is mostly motors of moderate size and power. Public transport is catered for by huge government-owned double-decker Diesel buses in which one may travel the length and breadth of the land.
So much has been written of the natural beauties of Killarney that it would be redundant to extol it here. It reminded me very much of the Highland scenery of Scotland with its lovely lakes, rivers, and hills, and its beautifully wooded valleys. It is the scenic gem of Eire, and perhaps one makes a mistake to visit it first, as it sets a standard which, with the exception of some parts of Connemara, is unequaled elsewhere in the island. To those contemplating a visit to this district I would advise staying at the excellent Great Southern Hotel in Kenmare, County Kerry. One cannot bring up the subject of hotels without mentioning the very reasonable prices. Even the hungry traveler may find it difficult to take full advantage of the copious offering at lunch, for which he will be charged $1.00. Dinner will cost him $2.00, and his room, with full breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from $7.50 to $8.00.
While there is an adequate number of bathrooms in the best hotels, it is not always easy to engage a room with private bath, nor must the traveler expect the generous offerings of ice water to which he may be accustomed; on request, however, ice will usually be forthcoming sufficient to cool his highball or soft fruit drink.
As the main purpose of my visit was a fishing holiday, I drove to Connemara, some 180 miles distant, over excellent roads and through delightful country. Everywhere one sees the remains of old castles and lowers, relies of Oliver Cromwell and a long-past turbulent era. The district is mostly agricultural, and one may admire the sleek cattle, the sheep, and the magnificent horses for which Eire is renowned. The Irish are true animal lovers and lavish care and affection upon them.
While liberal rations of gasoline are given to travelers, a tourist once found himself with insufficient to reach his destination and asked a village constable where he could obtain more. After politely listening to the motorist’s inquiry, the constable replied: “Well, I’ve had no complaints that the black market has stopped.”
At Galway every traveler pauses to peer over the parapet of the road bridge and view the hundreds of salmon lying in serried ranks with their heads upstream awaiting the mysterious signal to push their way up the river toward their eventual spawning grounds. This river drains Lough Conn, the largest sheet of fresh water in Eire, famous for its huge brown trout and its monstrous pike. Lough Mask also drains into Lough Conn, and is equally famous for its fishing, which is free, except for a small government license, to all.
The great harvest of trout in these lakes is reaped by “dapping" a May fly, daddy longlegs, or blue dragonfly. Dapping is done by drifting a boat in a breeze and allowing the hook, with the insects impaled on it, to blowout in the wind on a special light line so that the lure lightly kisses the surface of the water like a natural insect, impelled by the wind. At times other than the May fly hatch, the bigger fish seem to swim lower and are then mostly captured on spun or trolled lures.
Many salmon in the two lakes do not, for some reason, rise readily to the angler’s lure. Any trout angler who can visil these waters at the right time will be thrilled by the capture of a “specimen" trout weighing, perhaps, ten pounds or more. For those who like pike fishing, monsters up to thirty pounds and over put up most sporting lights and are reputed to be comparatively common. The record pike caught on rod and line weighed fifty-four pounds. These Irish pike may be recommended to anyone desiring the thrill of playing a big fish without having to go to sea to find one.
The cream of the salmon and sea trout waters is to be found at Ballynahinch in Connemara. It is controlled by the proprietor of Ballynahinch Castle hotel, which has one of the loveliest settings in the country. Until recent years a private house, ft is poised on a hill some fifty feet above the river. The magnificent timber of the extensive demesne affords delightful walks through an enchanting forest of ornamental trees, some of which are rare specimens.
The traveler is ever conscious of antiquity in Eire, and if he stays at Ballynahinch Castle he may ponder the history of his lodging. In olden times it belonged to the O’Flahertys, Lords of Connemara, but it passed into the hands of the Martin family in the seventeenth century. Richard Mart in was a notorious dueler and a friend of George IV, and his daughter Mary, “Princess of Connemara,” inspired Charles J. Lever’s novel The Martins of Cro Martin.
The views from the hotel are enriched by the mountain chain of the “Twelve Bens,”of which Bencorr rises 2336 feet sheer from Lough Inagh, the finest lake for sea trout fishing.
These mountains provide a rough guide to the weather, for if their summits are shrouded in cloud it is raining, but if they stand out clearly it is going to rain! In common with most of the west coast of the British Isles there is a vast amount of cloud, mist, rain, or drizzle. It is this constant moisture which not only makes everything green but usually provides ample water for the angler.
In addition to the river, upon which there are seven beats, there is a vast chain of lakes, set in the gaunt beauty of the mountains, which give, besides salmon, excellent sport with sea trout. ’This fish, which is only to be found in European waters, is a very close cousin to the salmon and may be classed, without question, as the gamest fish for its size that swims. It is astonishing to see, when fishing for salmon, the powerful rod bent perilously by a little sea trout weighing scarcely a pound. When these fish are taken on light tackle, their rapid runs and constant high leaps earn the respect of the most blasé salmon and brown trout angler.
For success in fishing these waters a steady, moderate breeze is essential. A gale generating heavy breaking waves is inimical to sport, as is the deadly flat calm, a condition rarely met in normal years in these western seaboard parts. But even when sport is poor the beauty and peace of the surroundings engender a tranquillity only to be enjoyed by followers of the Gentle Art.
The guides — or gillies, as they are called — reflect the general improvement in education and standard of living so noticeable throughout this wild part of the country. As a whole they are courteous, civil, and very anxious to show sport the angler, well meriting the modest pay they reecive for their services.
Though some of the old superstitions seem to have died out, the country people have many strange ideas. One day, while seated by the river, I asked the gillie how he supposed a particularly large boulder, weighing many tons, could have got where it lay. To my surprise he told me it had been put there by some saint, for what purpose he did not know. I explained that it had been deposited by a glacier eons ago, but he remained silent and obviously unconvinced.
When I arrived at Ballynahinch the drought, prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic, had reduced the river to a mere trickle, and indeed at high tide it actually appeared to run backwards! Stones a mile from the sea pool would become submerged at the top ol the tide, to reappear when it ebbed. The river has an unusually low fall and, with the exception of one or two small pools, must be classed as still-water fishing, depending entirely upon a fresh breeze for successful sport. As a consequence the bed is covered with weed, and at the sides an abundance of water lilies display their lovely blooms. My first reaction was “This river may hold pike, perch, or chub but can never hold salmon.”Of this I was quickly disabused, for during the days which were to follow I saw literally hundreds of salmon and sea trout jumping.
This is an amazing fishery. As there is no netting in that estuary, it has the greatest number of salmon per mile I ever saw. Even pool was well stocked with fish jumping all over the place, but they were the worst takers I ever fished, and when you rise a fish which refuses the fly, it is rare indeed to get him to come a second time. They are “oncers”!
A fishing holiday may he enhanced or impaired by the other visitors, and I was indeed fortunate to meet a su cession of charming people, mostly keen anglers. It was with profound regret that I left this hospitable and friendly country and people with their smiling faces and subtle humor.