Killarney, Ireland: The Gap of Dunloe (video)

Killarney, in County Kerry, has a high concentration of tourists; probably the highest in Ireland, due to its location at the intersection of several major roads and its role as the “base camp” for the Ring of Kerry.

I heard a local travel expert say “if you have only one day in Killarney, and can do only one thing, I urge you to visit the Gap of Dunloe.”

The Gap is a narrow mountain pass between McGillicuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. Here is a map showing the traditional routes through the Lake of Killarney, the Black Valley, and the Gap of Dunloe.

You can go in either direction, and go by foot and boat (as we did), bicycle, the most traditional way by pony and trap, which is a two-wheeled jaunting car; or by the least recommended way – by car. The road is extremely narrow and a car would be useful only if you’re staying at one of the few hostals along the route. If you’re not, do yourself a favor: walk or bike if you’re in reasonable shape, or go by pony trap if you are not. The walk is not too strenuous but it is long.

So – here we go. I’ll explain the route we took, but again, you can go the opposite way – just be sure you check boat schedules to and from Lord Brandon’s Cottage.

We had two cars so had no need for coach service between Kate Kearney’s Cottage and Ross Castle. We left one car at Kate’s and drive the other to our departure point at Reen Pier beside Ross Castle. There we got our boat at 11:00 (with Gap of Dunloe Tours) and made the 13-mile voyage across the Lake of Killarney, into Muckross Lake, and along the Upper Louth to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. You’ll see in video below, these boats are not large, enclosed ferries but open, long motorboats with a shallow draft to allow them to get up through some extremely narrow, extremely shallow waterways (though our boatman told us some parts of the lake are 100 meters deep!).

After arriving at Lord Brandon’s and a short pause for tea, we began the 7 mile (11 kilometer) walk through the Black Valley and Gap of Dunloe to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. There are hills and dales and dips and rises, but nothing too strenuous.

It is dotted here and there with moss-covered ruins, roofless cottages from ages past, and a hostal of more recent vintage (where I met a very old man who told me he’d lived all his life in Dunloe as he brewed the finest cup of tea I’ve had in ages.

Finally, I’d like to give you a bette view of the experience with this short travelogue of our boat ride and hike through the glorious Gap of Dunloe.

Actor Profiles: Francesco Pireddu


In my old theater blog, I featured interviews and profiles with performing artists I had known or worked with over the years, including Celeste Holm (All About Eve), Julie Wilson, and George Marcy (original Bernardo in West Side Story).  I decided to revisit these profiles and include some of them on this new blog.

Today I begin with Francesco Pireddu and an interview from 2014.  Francesco is originally from Sardinia, Italy and has worked his way through Rome, London and finally New York City as first, a dancer, and now a dancer and an accomplished actor.


JT:   Thank you for sitting down with me, Francesco.  Let’s begin with dance.  I saw you performing with Balasole Dance Company.  What I most remember is your decision to do a piece with absolutely no music at all.  It was only movement.  Can you tell us your thinking behind that? Why did you choose to do it without music?

Francesco:  The solo I performed at Live Arts Dance Theater in New York City is called: Silence?  I was always inspired by the work of the great actor and mime Marcel Marceau. He referred to mime as the “Art of Silence” and my piece was an homage to his fine art and immense talent. The idea of not having music was quite challenging and, at times, uncomfortable but I am always drawn to what scares me and pushes my boundaries as an artist and as a human being.  Not having music, in my opinion, creates also a deeper relationship with the audience; there are not filters, the movement is very much exposed and presented in its rawness.

You went to HB Studio, one of the most prestigious acting schools in New York City. Do you still consider yourself a dancer?

I will always consider myself a dancer.  Artistically, I started as a dancer,  The Ballet training, with its rigor and discipline, still represents my foundation whether I am on a stage or a movie set.  The transition into acting came smoothly and naturally.  I wanted to improve my skills and grow professionally and personally as well.  It was an honor to be accepted at HB Studio, one of the most famous Acting schools in New York City.  The training was truly well rounded and included: scene study, acting technique, voice and pronunciation, and movement.  Artistically, I became more grounded and complete.

I’ve seen you perform at the “Actors Acting for Actors” event in New York City. Can you tell us more about that experience?

The “Actors Acting for Actors” was a special event for actors and many professionals of the entertainment business such as producers, directors and writers were invited.  I was asked to perform a solo.  I chose to dance a neoclassical piece, which is a style I feel very comfortable with because it incorporates the Ballet training I undergone for many years. It was truly a beautiful experience.


How was your experience in the Off-Broadway musical: The Raja’s son and Princess Labam?

Oh, thank you for asking me about my off-Broadway-debut at the Medicine Show Theater.  The producer and director were looking for dancers and actors for the musical, not only singers.  I wanted to be part of it and I was called in for an audition, which was demanding and quite different from the type of auditions I am used to.  At the audition I was asked to dance and to perform a monologue.  I was also asked to improvise a dance routine based on the personality of one of the characters of the musical.  I eventually got the job and was very happy about it.

The rehearsals were grueling and demanding.  The Raja’s Son and Princess Labam is an Indian fairy-tale for both children and adults and was very well received. The cast was huge: singers, actors and dancers. The pace was fast and I learned a lot in terms of implementing different styles and delivering a well-rounded performance.

I was thrilled to make my off-Broadway debut in such a glorious production.

You just finished shooting a commercial for JA BANK, the Japanese investment bank.

Yes, and I had a wonderful time.  My role was the lead choreographer.  I created a modern, Broadway-style dance sequence and eventually performed it in the commercial. The production company Mt. Melvil had a very high budget, the crew was very professional and there was no rush whatsoever.  We had all the time we needed to shoot all the scenes; I totally trusted Mr. Motoki Tomatsu, the executive producer who chose me at the audition, and I felt confident in my performance.

You have so many projects in so many different art forms. What would you like to achieve in the nearer future?

Before moving to New York City I lived in London where I performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in Boris Godunov and La Forza del Destino, two of the most important Operas.  I was honored to have the opportunity to perform on such a prestigious and world-famous stage. I would love to create the same situation for myself in the US and perform at the most important and glorious theaters.  And I have no doubts I will.

It certainly requires discipline, dedication and hard work. And it is my intention to keep working on my craft and nurture my talent.  Stay tuned!


Francesco Pireddu, interviewed by John-Richard Thompson

December 2014




Oahu With Ukuleles

Here’s one of life’s great pleasures I never thought about until today: circle most of the island of Oahu in a junky car while listening to traditional Hawaiian music on the radio and stopping now and then for pineapples and coconut water.

Starting from here, in Honolulu….

This was the route I chose.  It took about eight hours, but that included lots of stops, a hike up a small mountain, two long swims, and an hour on the beach watching outrigger canoe races and two black labs frolicking in the waves.

Here are some views past Waikiki along the South Coast, including the lighthouse mountain at Makapuu Point


Then the Windward Coast presented views right out of Jurassic Park.

From here I passed through the center of the island, which is all pineapple plantations.  I took a tour of the Dole Pineapple plantation aboard a happy little train with a recording telling us how the pineapples are planted, raised and harvested – by hand – by people who have to wear heavy clothes and canvas gloves in the blistering heat to prevent being sliced like, well, a pineapple by the sharp leaves.  I trust Mr. Dole himself never spent much time in the fields.   (I hope the harvesters are well paid.)



And finally the day was rounded off with a pineapple ice cream that is my new favorite thing on earth.

Tonight – off to Waikiki.