On a recent trip to Kenmare in County Kerry on the West Coast of Ireland, we came across Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm - a treasured place of history that is over two hundred years old. Molly's Cottage was originally a single story thatched cottage, half of which still stands today.
The Druid looking over the valley - Image: Elaine de Wet
Once parked outside Molly's, the first interesting thing one sees is 'The Druid', looking across the valley to the highest peak 'Barra-Bui' where a Cairn on the summit marks the resting place of an ancient Chieftain. This imposing figure represents the first settlers in the Sheen Valley more than 6000 years ago. These settlers had a great devotion to their Gods and their dead as well as advanced knowledge of astronomy, which is evident from the vast legacy of burial and ritual sites that are still to be found in the area.
Spectacular views from The Druid - Image: Elaine de Wet
Back to Molly! Molly was a widow with seven small children to feed and clothe and thus needed to call on all her resourcefulness to keep her family fed and healthy. She supplemented her meagre income from her small mountain farm by opening a sibheen - an illegal pub. A small bit of trivia, in South Africa today an illegal or backyard pub is called a shebeen. I guess this means South Africa has some roots in the old Irish country. Molly sold her own home made "Poitín" - whiskey - which was locally known as "Molly's Mountain Dew".
Molly's home-made Poitín was known as Molly's Mountain Dew - Images: Elaine de Wet
In the early 1840's a new mountain pass was built between Glengarriff and Kenmare. This road is now known as the Caha Pass, but way back when, became a popular tourist route, linking West Cork and South Kerry. Horse-drawn coach tours were organised for rich English tourists to enjoy the spectacular scenery over the mountain passes from Glengarrif to Killarney. Today, this is still a spectacularly beautiful area to drive through or to enjoy country walks.
Molly Gallivan's is the Trail Head for three Failte Ireland National Loop Walks. These walks consist of different gradients and range from one and a half hours to four hours long. They are a part of a network of walks and cycling trails developed in the Sheen Valley Heritage Area, which stretches from the picturesque town of Kenmare in County Kerry to the Caha Pass, that leads through the Kerry tunnels into West Cork. To see the walking trail maps and to read more about them, please click here.
Do some shopping at Molly's Old World Craft shop - Images: Elaine de Wet
Molly Gallivan's soon became a welcome stop for tired travellers to enjoy some of Molly's home baking and teas. Molly, being ever so innovative, set up her own cottage industry selling hand-spun woollens, Aran sweaters and local crafts. Local farmers supplied wool for her industry and neighbouring women helped with the spinning and knitting.
This cottage-industry generated much needed employment in the community during a period of poverty and need. During the First World War and War of Independence, the tourism industry slowed dramatically in Ireland. Molly Gallivan's was converted to a grocery store and she supplied the community with flour, groceries and other household goods.
Jeremiah Gallivan was the last of Molly's descendants to live in the cottage. Jeremiah was a bachelor and farmed the land using the same traditional methods as his ancestors until his demise in 1997.
Today, visitors have heaps to enjoy in and around Molly's Cottage. Visitors can enjoy a walk around the traditional farm, which has not changed much since Molly's time. Or if one is feeling more energetic, a traditional farm walk will take you through the farmyard; the Poitin Still; the sheep house; the famine ruin; or the Neolithic Stone Row (3 - 2000BC). This Neolithic Stone Row consists of two large flag stones that were placed and propped into position to mark the sun rise position on the Summer Solstice (21 June).
Peat was a primary source of fuel for fire - Image: Elaine de Wet
Peat or turf bog was a primary source of fuel for fire. In Spring the wet peat was cut and laid on the ground to dry. When it had dried sufficiently to handle, it was stacked up in "stokes" so that the wind and sun could dry it completely. Apparently it provides excellent firing with a very distinctive aroma.
Molly's also host real traditional Irish 'Ball Nights' - an Irish evening of entertainment including Irish food, music, song, dance and story telling. The old customs that took place in Irish homes the night before a family member emigrated, or returned, from a foreign land, are re-enacted for visitors. These traditional Irish hooleys were known locally as "Ball Nights".
Visitors can browse and enjoy a pukka Irish shopping experience in Molly's Old-World Craft shop, with everything from locally made pottery to hats and scarves and jewellery. Molly's have their own on-line shopping link too - click here to browse some wonderful buys.
Sit down and relax with a cup of tea in Molly's old Tea Shop and Barn Restaurant - the Tea Rooms are open from 9.30am to 6.00pm, seven days a week from mid-March to mid-November. Or, like me, take your cuppa outdoors to enjoy the views and savour the sunshine.
A wonderfully historic place to stop, enjoy the breathtaking scenery and to enjoy a 'hundred thousand welcomes' - so when next you're on the West Coast of Ireland, do pop in and enjoy some good old-fashioned Irish hospitality.
Failte go - Welcome to Molly Gallivan's - Image: Elaine de Wet