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One Photo; One Story: Getting lost and finding a bit of heaven

We were lost in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, we drove right past the “Cars Forbidden” sign, serves us right for not following instructions. We had a map; we didn’t follow that either.

Kate Kearney’s cottage sits at the mouth of the Gap of Dunloe, it’s been there for 150 years. Behind the cottage car park is a path that leads to a mountain pass that separates the Macgillycuddy Reeks and the Purple Mountain Group in County Kerry, Ireland.

It was winter, there were no tourist buses or oceans of old ladies screaming at their husbands. Driving the gap of Dunloe is sternly discouraged by the local pony and trap drivers who haul visitors up the gap for an authentic Ireland adventure. It is not Illegal to drive on the gap.

I wouldn’t attempt in summer, too crowded. We had read that the gap was 6.8 miles long, easy drive in and easy drive out.

As we drove along the gap, a glacial trail with several lakes opened before us. We met a small dog named “Texas”.

In this valley, I could almost count the “forty shades of green” the travel books describe. We passed a long-abandoned stone house that I imagined was a famine cottage from mid 19th century. I stopped to take a photo standing on a large rock on the banks of the Dun Loch (Black Lake).

At the Head of the Gap the road is narrow and unpaved. It would have been easy to turn to head back out. This was the opportunity to do so.

We wanted to see more, and we figured to drive a few more miles. The Black Valley Loop is a narrow treacherous path that winds 55 kilometers. It climbs mountains and valleys on roads more dangerous than the Ring of Kerry. We saw sheep and goats with the cliffs of rocky ravines inches from the wheel. There is no turning the car around.

After an hour or so we came to a gate. On the other side was a “Killarney National Park” work crew. I called to them, “Hey Buddy, can you open the gate”?

Puzzled he turned to his partner saying, “Jaysus, He wants me to OOO-pen the gate. He thinks I have the Kay to every lock in Ireland, he does”.

I smiled and asked, “How do I get out”?

He pointed and shouted, “That way about an hour and sure it’ll take you back to where you stairrr-ted”.

It was nearly dark when we arrived back at Kate Kearney’s. Tired but so glad we got lost. Today we would push the button on our GPS and know exactly where to turn. What fun is that when you can get lost and discover the world. I felt like an explorer. We got to see a part of Ireland not many tourists get to see. We vowed to return.

The amazing thing about Ireland is that it still holds its mysticism. The Ireland of my Grandparents is changed. There are traces of the old country if you observe closely.

Eleven years later we return with our family. We rented the Fern Height Cottage. We arrive before sunset; behind the house a grove of trees looks like a faery fort. A carved-out field, hedgerows and a path for sheep outline a meadow under the mountain. After dark we spend a few moments outdoors looking at the stars. They are so close you could touch them.

Far from the lights of Killarney, the sky is big. I recognize the Big Dipper and I marvel at how small we really are. I stand with the boys and my wife and think about our modern lights. If they were to one day be extinguished, would our innate human fears return in the darkness and we fear the things that go bump in the night again.

Would the forces on the edge of the light creep back in without the protection of artificial light? The boys get freaked out and head back in. They swear they heard a banshee.

We should watch the stars more. Get our faces out of the light of the cell phone.

In the morning my wife Kelly, Devin, Brendan and I set out to hike the Gap of Dunloe. The same road we drove in the middle of winter in 2005.

We walked for hours in this beautiful treasure of Ireland. Our packs loaded with sandwiches, pints of Guinness and flask of Bushmills. We walked among roaming sheep, horse drawn carts and farmers. We absorbed the day and the sunshine.

We hiked to the Wishing Bridge and stopped for lunch. An Irish legend says if you make a wish standing on the bridge, your wish will come true. I hope all of our wishes will.

We spent five or six hours exploring. No cell phones, just us together walking and talking. At times we were quiet and just listened to the sound of our footsteps and taking in the wonder of Kerry.

I took a sip of water from the Dun Loch and the boys joked that I’d die from an amoeba. I wash it back with a Guinness.

On the same rock I stood on years ago, we stop and have a toast to one of the greatest days of my life. We returned from a time we were lost and discovered each other.

I vowed to return and I did; the rewards were immeasurable. We took the day and seized it. We also made sure Grandma Carole got her uniquely Irish adventure.

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