Monday, July 17, 2017

All Roads Lead to Kenmare

Dromneavane Road, north of Kenmare, Peakeen and Knockanagish on the near horizon. 

All Roads Lead to Kenmare, first published by Stanley Edward Goddard in 1983, is my favorite guidebook to anywhere. As a trail guide, it is untrustworthy, and as a description of Kenmare town, too old to be edifying. But this: 

Up ahead to the north-east stands Mangerton, a beautiful 'whale-backed' mountain that with its gently moulded slopes looks to have escaped the rugged forces of the ice age. But not so Peakeen and its companion Knockanaguish that look as though they have been physically expelled from the earth to stand silent sentinel on the old road that passes directly between them. Here just a mile and three quarters from town, as the sun catches the shadows of the clouds it feels like another world, the peace and quiet broken only by the shrill calls of the linnets as you stare out on the rugged patchwork quilt that seems to adorn both mountains, before folding gently back into the valley. 

Peakeen Mountain on the right, and the Reeks in the distance. The Black Valley lies between. 

Topics in this same chapter include: traffic jams in Kenmare, the Fever Hospital and famine, how turf cutters relied on donkeys, why Irish roads often dead-end, the extinct Red Deer, why you shouldn't drink on your tour bus, goats, poteen, The Clearances, Booley Villages and sex between young people, the shortage of sacred ground for burials, and a defeat of Normans in 1263. Threaded through all that he describes how to walk from Kenmare Square to Killarney, without distances and rarely what to expect as far as grade.

Goddard's Kenmare is the kind of book I wish were written for every town, approximating the experience of walking around town with a knowledgable friend while they point out where they buy lightbulbs, and the doctor who lived there, and that's why it's called Shelbourne Street, and here's the best route up that mountain. Now that we have satellite maps in our pockets, it's the cultural memories we need resurrected by expert pedestrians with decades of close observation. 

Looking south, above Kenmare. 

Within walking distance of that triangle of streets is a stone circle, a sacred well, a forest, a bridge older than history, a souterrain, a burial ground and medieval church ruin, and American-built folly. 

So many roads meet in Kenmare it is an easy place to take a break from the road for lunch, shopping, and a walk around. It is perfect for tourists. There are fewer shops for locals than in Goddard's day, but a hardware still carries everything, local eggs can be found at the health food store, there's a pet rescue thrift, and musicians nearly every night at one of the many pubs. It's the kind of place you might visit on vacation, and wish you could move to.

Kenmare is the closest town to us, and I never dreamed I'd be living here. Kenmare was the first Irish village I became acquainted with, and although I tried not to compare, I found many similarities to Santa Cruz. The Catholic Church is called Holy Cross, and the other church is called "St. Patrick's" like the one in Watsonville. The tourism and traffic, the good restaurants, the sea, the locals complaining that the town isn't what it used to be—all familiar. When I first arrived, I was confused why my hosts kept driving through the middle of town and getting stuck in traffic instead of going around. There are no side streets for locals only. All Roads Lead to Kenmare.  

Toward Kenmare. 

My home town of Santa Cruz needs a book like this and I'm probably a good person to write it. For now, I'm where my roads led me. 


  1. Looking forward to your Santa Cruz book, if and when you come back, and if and when you get inspired to write it!

  2. I will definitely return to Santa Cruz--when the road leads me back there. It will eventually.