Stone Circles & Haunted Hedgerows

Some places are off the map because they have not yet been discovered. Others because they do not want to be found.

Kenmare. Tucked astride the deepest inlet of the North Atlantic Ocean where river meets bay on the rocky southwestern shores of Ireland hides one of those places. The town, whose population has hardly changed since the 1800s, is comprised of only three streets that form a triangle: Henry Street, Shelbourne Street, and Main Street. "The Little Nest," or An Neidin, as the area is known by the Gaelic tongue, resides within County Kerry clear on the other side of the country from the capital city of Dublin. Often, Kenmare feels even further away in both distance and time.

Water from the frozen sea, from the salmon-thick River Roughty, and endlessly from the sky above makes the lush land grow boundless. Brilliant green foliage covers every postcard-perfect vista. Dense, rocky forests, spotted by picturesque waterfalls, drip with mist and lichen-covered boughs. Tall grasses sprout wildly across the rolling hills. Even inorganic stones, roads and buildings grow thick beards of moss.

There is green and then there is green in Ireland.

The charming town makes you feel never like a tourist, always a neighbor. Original, hand-painted wood and iron signs hang above penny-whistle storefronts, pubs are still named for their original barkeeper (O'Donnahain, Foley's, O'Sullivan's) where the scents and sounds of rich, slow-cooked stews and feverish fiddles arrive with the setting sun, and the local gentry can tell you when the rain will start, stop and what type it will be.

And they are always right.

Kenmare soaks day and night in its surrounding waters so there is never a dry coat, nor a dry glass. Pints are filled just a pinky's-width shy of overflowing to save room for the foam of the locally brewed favorite, Beamish, a nuttier, bolder and even older beer than Guinness. Beamish is found on all the taps, all the lips and even in many of the stews in the triangle with the alcohol-warming hopes of staving off the chill for just a few minutes more.

Following any one of the clear blue streams down the mountainside leads to the long finger of Kenmare Bay where boats flying the green, white and orange never enjoy a gentle moment on the churning tide. Heavy breezes constantly blow from offshore, driving people inside in front of crackling fires to enjoy one of the many nightly live bands that spill out of every pub. This wind, ever-present and ever-biting cold, can be felt every place down by the bay, except for one.

Hedgerows, miles long, weave an interconnected maze along the waterfront, their thickly meshed branches forming a fully enclosed wooden tunnel to keep out the wind, but not the cold. Within the hedgerows lives perpetual twilight as the sun, already putting up the good fight against thick cloud cover, has no strength left to cast shadows. Those brave enough to risk an early morning trek out to these natural wonders will often find them filled with a ghostly, frigid fog that enshrouds the pathway ahead and behind as it passes like a phantom through the leaves. These hedgerows, once barriers against invading armies of forgotten wars, now encounter no more action than a wistful hiker trampling dead leaves beneath her feet.

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On the outskirts of Kenmare sits perhaps its most ancient secret: a stone circle. Similar to Stone Henge, the Bronze Age (2,200-500 B.C.) stone circle in Kenmare was constructed with fifteen boulders, each weighing several tons, arranged in a geometrical ellipse that surrounds a singular dolmen. This dolmen, or portal tomb, consists of three stones supporting a fourth flat stone and was often used for rituals or to mark the grave of an important individual. Not only is the positioning of  these stones remarkable due to their immense weight, but also because they are oriented to face astronomical elements during a solar or lunar event, such as a solstice. Even though the stone circle was created thousands of years ago before the advent of modern mathematics, physics, or astronomy, the unknown builders exhibit a remarkable understanding of the progression of the universe. Why exactly the stones are there only the faeries the locals speak of truly know.

Kenmare embodies quintessential Irish charm with a smile on every face and a fire in every hearth. There are even, cliches be damned, rainbows arching over the bay to some unseen pot of gold. Little has changed in Kenmare throughout history and it still remains relatively unknown. For that the locals and visitors are thankful. Kenmare, shrouded in its protective fog, rests safely away from the tug of time.

Forever off the map.