Ireland’s 20-year transformation from Europe’s poor stepchild to economic powerhouse has been well documented by both business and travel writers. David Yeadon is the later, well known for seeking out and reporting on some of the world’s less-traveled places. When Yeadon wondered if such a “hidden” place still exists in the new Ireland, acquaintances pointed him to the Beara Peninsula, a 30-mile-long finger of land, just south of the tourist-overrun Ring of Kerry and Dingle, yet a world apart.
Yeadon and his wife, Anne, made a number of lengthy excursions to Beara, staying for months at a time in a rural cottage and attaining local status as something more than “blow-ins.” Yeadon’s delightful chronicle, At the Edge of Ireland captures the rhythms of this idyllic spot, largely unspoiled due to the state of its roads, which are primitive and unwelcoming even by Irish standards.
The breathtaking Irish landscape often defies verbal description, though that has not stopped writers from trying to get it right for centuries. Yeadon is as successful as anyone in this pursuit (he also supplies his own line drawings throughout), but even with its visits to standing stones and quaint villages, At the Edge of Ireland is less about Beara’s natural beauty, which is a given, and more about its people. Our intrepid guide is apt to strike up a conversation with anyone he encounters, and in so doing he learns how life on Beara has changed—most notably as the result EU fishing agreements (or some might say disagreements)—and how it has not. Given its serenity and widely-attested mystical aura (rumor has it there is a vein of powerful quartz crystal running beneath its rugged surface), the peninsula attracts countless artists, writers and spiritual seekers, many of whom are not native born. Curiously, the area’s most notable draw may be Dzogchen Beara, a world renowned Buddhist retreat.
With many non-Irish residents featured in the book, one might argue that Yeadon fails in his quest for the “real” Ireland, but even with its influx of eastern European workers, its harbor filled with Spanish fishing trawlers, and its parade of new age pilgrims, Beara retains an Irish authenticity. This is because the newcomers who call it home have a great respect for the old ways and wish to preserve them. Ireland for them is not merely Celtic music, Guinness, or myth-steeped literature—although these all have a place in their hearts. It is something deeper, a feeling that to be Irish is more of a sensibility than a genetic trait.
Whether the Beara Peninsula is “genuine” Ireland—or can remain so for long—may be unanswerable. But with observations such as this—“Sitting together on the grass by our cottage, long after the sun has drifted down behind the Skelligs, watching the moon-blanched mountains slip into the ocean beyond our beautiful white sand beach. And listening to the silence. And the silence listening to us.”—Yeadon certainly makes you want to pack a bag and head there to find out for yourself.
Robert Weibezahl was a student in Dublin a few years before the Celtic Tiger roared. While a return visit to Ireland last summer was enlightening, he, alas, has never visited the Beara Peninsula.