Letter from America

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The tourist map for Valentia Island on the Iveragh Peninsula, Co.Kerry, marks a location ‘Candles’. An explanatory panel describes this as an attraction offering tourists the opportunity to join a candle-making workshop, or to purchase handmade candles. The approach is a steep descent on a winding road, through a cluster of houses, to a cul de sac and farmyard buildings with signage: ’Candles’. The location is possibly the most western piece of land in Europe, or within a Puffins fart of it. I stood at a five bar gate, a foot resting on the bottom bar, surveying this stretch of coastal beauty while ‘a swell’ brought gigantic waves crashing against the rugged coastline.

As with another location at 2km as the Puffin flies, St.Brendans Well, a site of pilgrimage, is marked on the map and with a sign on the county road. When Ireland was the land of saints and scholars Brendan, as he was known prior to being saintly, would visit the well to fill his kettle and make a drop of tea for visitors, a customary welcome round these parts. The site is remote and visitors few which probably explains why he built a boat and got to hell out of there. Better known as St.Brendan the Navigator confirms that he met a few folk on his journey but the Well may well be the only pile of stones he ever built.

The naming of places by association is common, and I would posit that at some point in the future ‘Candles’ will be a de facto location with its own road sign, and searchable on Google maps. I have good reason to speculate so. On the N70 between Cahersiveen and Waterville there is another noteworthy road sign; Letter. Most would drive past on the Ring of Kerry not giving it a second thought. But how wrong they would be. This tiny Hamlet, a scattering of new builds, was formally the hub for mail from the emigrants to loved ones back home, containing much needed financial support. Formally known as ‘Letter from America’ and abbreviated in more prosperous times.

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