Monthly Archives: June 2015

Ireland’s Best Day Out in Killarney National Park

On June 27, 2015, the Irish Times in partnership with Discover Ireland awarded “Ireland’s Best Day Out” to Killarney National Park and I can see why. Our first stop on N-71 approaching the park from Kenmare was at Ladies View, named for Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting who fell in love with the view while on a visit back in 1861. Views of the lakes and bogs with MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in the background still delight visitors today and we joined their ranks.

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Ladies View, Killarney National Park

Nearby Torq Waterfall is just one of many waterfalls in the park. The trail was an easy walk through the woods with beautiful scenery including the emerald-green moss covering the ground and trees that defied capture by my camera. I expected to see a leprechaun or at least a fairy in this magical place but alas, saw neither.

Moss covered terrain on the trail to Torq Waterfall

Moss covered terrain on the trail to Torq Waterfall

Torq Waterfall, Killarney National Park

Torq Waterfall, Killarney National Park

But by far the most pleasant and memorable tour of Killarney National Park has to be by jaunting car. A jaunting car is a horse-drawn cart with a driver who is called a jarvey. For 40€, the four of us enjoyed a uniquely Irish experience that provided one of the highlights of our trip to Ireland.

Jaunting Car

Jaunting Car

For a sample of our ride, check out my YouTube video: http://youtu.be/iIjbPPH3BJk. (Just click on it; it will take you directly there.) Our driver, Con, was lively and informative giving us details about the lakes, fishing, wildlife, vegetation and more. For example, I commented on the beautiful rhododendron just starting to bloom throughout the park and learned that it’s actually an invasive species that needs to be controlled if not eradicated. The park is also home to the only remaining herd of Irish red deer. The population was at one time reduced to about 100 head but today has grown to around 600.

Invasive rhododendran in Killarney National Park

Invasive rhododendran in Killarney National Park

After several stops for lake views and photos, we arrived at Muckross House where we spent an hour exploring the grounds and gardens while our driver waited. This beautiful Victorian mansion was completed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his famous watercolorist wife, Mary Balfour Herbert. You can check out her beautiful watercolors here: Mary Balfour Herbert watercolors. The gardens are renowned and although April is early for gardens, we were impressed with what we saw.

Killarney National Park

View of Middle Lake, Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Lower Lake, Killarney National Park

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Muckross House

Gardens at Muckross House

Muckross House

View from Muckross House

Jaunting car ride in Killarney National Park

Jaunting car ride in Killarney National Park

Established in 1932, Killarney became the first national park in Ireland when Muckross House and the 25,000 acre estate was gifted to the nation upon the death of the owner’s wife. I would bet at the time, a visit to the park was considered Ireland’s Best Day Out. Eighty-three years later, if you’re looking for Ireland’s Best Day Out, you can still visit Killarney National Park.

Based on events from April, 2015.

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Ring of Kerry on the Wild Atlantic Way

Traveling from the south, it may have been simpler to spend the night in Kenmare and head clockwise around the Ring of Kerry ending at Killarney National Park. That’s how American travel guru, Rick Steves, and others recommend you tackle it. Irish tourist organizations, however, strongly recommend you drive counter-clockwise with the flow of traffic to reduce traffic issues. After several days on narrow Irish roads, we decided we would rather follow tour buses than face them. We opted to comply with local wisdom and circle the ring counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise, as they say in Ireland. After spending the night in Glenbeigh (marked on the map below), we left early the following morning to stay well ahead of the parade of tour buses leaving Killarney. This plan worked well for us.

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Although none of the guide books listed any accommodations in Glenbeigh, I found the Towers Hotel on the internet and booked it. Honestly, this hotel was a little long in the tooth but check out the sunset view from our room. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Sunset view from Tower Hotel in Glenbeigh

Sunset view from Tower Hotel in Glenbeigh

The pub in the hotel served good pub grub for dinner and the following morning we had a traditional full Irish breakfast composed of fried eggs, bangers (sausages), rashers (thick bacon), tomatoes, black pudding (blood pudding with pork and fillers) and white pudding (without the blood) which was excellent.

Full Irish Breakfast

Full Irish Breakfast

Fortunately, we didn’t meet much traffic all day and if you love scenic views, the Ring of Kerry has plenty to offer along N70, the main road.

Cliffs of Kerry

View from the Ring of Kerry looking across to the Dingle Peninsula

Cliffs of Kerry

Ring of Kerry View toward Dingle Peninsula

We left the main road to explore the Skellig loop for some extra outstanding views. In fact, I would say that the views from the Cliffs of Kerry were among the very best we saw in Ireland. I’ve read plenty of complaints about the 4 Euro admission fee but I’m glad we paid it. Also keep in mind you won’t see the Cliffs of Kerry on a big tour bus because the roads are too narrow for them.

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry with view of Puffin Island, Little Skellig, and Skellig Michael (Great Skellig)

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

Cliffs of Kerry

View of the bog opposite the Cliffs of Kerry

View of the bog opposite the Cliffs of Kerry

Many other areas along the Skellig Loop offered more incredible scenery worthy of a stop and a photo.
Ring of Kerry

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When we returned to the main road and stopped at yet another vantage point, we discovered a man with these sweet little mountain sheep lambs. For a small donation, we each got a photo.

Located 2.5 miles off N70 along a narrow one lane track, we explored Staigue Fort, dating from around the first century, AD. One of the largest and finest ring forts in Ireland, it was well worth a look. There are three such forts on the Ring of Kerry which provided protection to local chieftains, family, guards, and servants. The fort was constructed by stacking the stones with no mortar whatsoever.

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Staigue Fort

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Inside wall of Staigue Fort

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Commanding view from the wall of Staigue Fort

We finally arrived in Kenmare, where we had a reservation for the night at the Brook Lane Hotel. Although it was undergoing some renovation while we were there, it was nonetheless an outstanding accommodation. Even the restaurant, No. 35, won us over with its organic, locally sourced menu items.

Kenmare, Ireland

Kenmare, Ireland

Salmon

Pan fried Fillet of Salmon with Horseradish & Garden Herb Crumb, Spring Onion & Rooster Mashed Potato, Mini Caper & Lemon Cream Sauce

Chicken

Roast Irish Chicken Breast, Mashed potato

Burger

Grilled Hereford Beef Burger, with Smoked Gubeen Cheese & Bacon, Salad Leaves, Onion Rings, Chips & Sweet Chilli Mayo

We barely scratched the surface seeing the sights offered on the Ring of Kerry. This is definitely an Irish gem that warrants more time and attention than we were able to devote this time around. After this taste, I would love to return and savor the sights on the Ring of Kerry at a slower, more relaxed pace.

Based on events from April, 2015

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Touring Kinsale with Barry

Kinsale is a delightful town in the south of Ireland with a lot going for it.  First, it is known as the foodie capital of Ireland. When I read that, I knew my son and daughter-in-law would want to go. Second, it’s along the Wild Atlantic Way, “the world’s longest defined coastal touring route” (www.wildatlanticway) which I was keen to travel. Third, it’s steeped in history from the Spanish Armada to the sinking of the Lusitania. I call that a travel trifecta.

We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast by the name of the Old Presbytery which I thought sounded perfect for a couple of Presbyterians. The proprietor later explained the presbytery was where the Roman Catholic parish priest lived. Oh well. The location was perfect with parking provided and our breakfast the next morning of salmon and eggs was worthy of the foodie capital.

The nice thing about staying in a central location in a small town is everything is within walking distance. That evening we strolled through town to Fishy Fishy for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation so we had to wait a bit for a table but it was well worth it. The food was outstanding. They were short-staffed later in the evening so, in all honesty, our service was a bit slow,  but the staff in the kitchen prepared excellent food that was fresh and locally sourced.

As I was writing this post, I saw Fishy Fishy recently won the Best Seafood Experience at the 2015 Irish Restaurant Awards. That probably means more than any recommendation I can give.

After dinner we stopped by the Blue Haven for some live music. The place was packed but the music was more folk than traditional Irish so we didn’t stay long. Nevertheless, it was a nice way to end the day.

The Blus Haven, Kinsale

The Blus Haven, Kinsale

The following morning after our delicious breakfast at the Old Presbytery, we explored Kinsale on our way to check out Don and Barry’s Historic Stroll. It was farmer’s market day in Kinsale with lots of options for scrumptious products.

Farmers' Market, Kinsale, Ireland

Farmers’ Market, Kinsale, Ireland

 

Food stand at the Farmer's Market, Kinsale

Food stand at the Farmer’s Market, Kinsale

 

Farmer's Market, Kinsale

Farmer’s Market, Kinsale

We were the first to arrive at the Tourist Office where we were to meet our tour guide for Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll. Rick Steves says, “This walk is Kinsale’s single best attraction,” (Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll brochure) so we had high expectations. We met Barry and as we stood there chatting, he asked whether we planned to go to Dingle and explained that Rick Steves had an excellent self-guided tour of the Dingle Peninsula in his Ireland guide book. When we said Dingle was on our itinerary, he went off somewhere and returned shortly with the Rick Steves 2014 guide book in hand. He insisted we take it. When we discovered he works as a guide for Rick Steves, we figured he probably gets a new book each year but we were happy to receive last year’s edition.

Barry

Barry

 

By the time the tour started, our ranks had swelled to around 20 tourists and one local. We began at the waterfront where we learned that, historically, the Kinsale harbor enjoyed great naval significance due to its sheltered location and the changing tide levels which moved wind powered ships in and out even without wind.

Kinsale Harbor

Kinsale Harbor

Several important historical events occurred here. In 1601, the last Spanish Armada entered the harbor to wrest Ireland from the English with the help of the rebellious Irish in the Battle of Kinsale.  In the end, the English prevailed leading to the “Plantation of Ulster,” a plan to permanently subjugate the Irish by seizing their land and granting it to colonists arriving from England and Scotland.

The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Kinsale in 1915 during WW1. This event turned American public opinion against the Germans and eventually led to U.S. entry into the war. Germany suspected munitions were onboard to be delivered to the British and posted notices in New York that the ship might be sunk. To this day, there is disagreement over whether the sinking of the Lusitania was justifiable. The local that joined our tour added to the discussion from his viewpoint as a member of the committee for the centenary observance of the sinking of the Lusitania.

Customs House where the inquest was held for the sinking of the Lusitania

Customs House where the inquest was held for the sinking of the Lusitania

 

Barry regaled us with plenty of other intriguing tales about Kinsale.  For example, Alexander Selkirk, the buccaneer whose survival on an uninhabited island became the basis of the novel, Robinson Crusoe, actually set sail from Kinsale in 1703. A year later he was put ashore in the San Fernandez archipelago where he managed to survive until 1709 when he was rescued. Then there was the story about the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter, who was born in Kinsale in 1760 and grew to over 8 feet tall. He died at the age of 46 and his boots are on display at the Kinsale Museum.

Home of the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter

Home of the Kinsale Giant, Patrick Cotter

The last suggestion Barry left us with was to take a trip out to the Charles Fort, just outside of town. It’s a star fort built in 1767. Due to the design enabling the defenders to catch invaders in a crossfire, Kinsale was never the sight of another attack.

 

Taken from events of April, 2015

References:

http://www.wildatlanticway.com

Brochure and Tour from Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll

Categories: History, Ireland, Travel, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ireland Beyond the Pale

If you’ve heard the phrase “beyond the pale,” you likely know it means outside the boundaries. For example, if someone’s behavior is beyond the pale, it is outside what is acceptable.

You may not know, however, where the phrase originated. The Irish will tell you it comes from the time period in Irish history when the English colonized Ireland.  The Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland in 1169 and established English control but the further one got from Dublin, the seat of English power, the less control they could exert. By the 14th century, a perimeter surrounding Dublin was fenced or ditched for protection. The word pale comes from the Latin palus meaning stake and the pale was a term to describe a region with a staked or paled fence surrounding it for protection (www.worldwidewords.org).   Anything outside that area was “beyond the pale,” meaning outside the boundaries of English dominion.

So, let’s go beyond the pale and explore outside Dublin (but not outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior.)

Our first stop was the iconic Rock of Cashel, a Heritage Site in County Tipperary, located just a two-hour road trip southwest of Dublin. The medieval buildings atop a limestone outcropping are visible from miles away. I also spied lots of scaffolding which intruded on my imagining of life during that time period but ancient buildings need upkeep so I tried to ignore that.

View from the road approaching the Rock of Cashel

View from the road approaching the Rock of Cashel

Somehow we missed the turn in town for the parking lot so instead we parked along the road and walked up from the back side which actually turned out to be an advantage. It was closer to the abbey we visited afterward and a lovely walk with gorgeous views of the Rock.

Jim walking up the back path to the Rock of Cashel

Jim walking up the back path to the Rock of Cashel

Historically, the Rock of Cashel had obvious strategic importance. You could view and defend a wide area from this location as you can tell from the photo below.

View of the countryside from the Rock of Cashel

View of the countryside from the Rock of Cashel

In the fourth or fifth century AD, there was a fortress on this site under the kingship of Conall Corc. Legend has it Saint Patrick baptised Conall Corc’s grandsons at this location, too. In 978 AD, Brian Boru became King of Cashel and if you’ve followed my blog, you’re familiar with him. If not,check out the earlier posts about Clontarf Castle and the National Museum of Ireland.

The Rock of Cashel became church property in 1101 by a gift from Muircheartach Ua Briain, who was then King of Cashel. The church or cathedral that would have been built at that time no longer stands but Cormac’s Chapel was consecrated in 1134. Built in the Romanesque style, it is one of the earliest churches in Ireland and is truly a treasure.

Cormac's Chapel, Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Cormac’s Chapel, Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Notice the stone heads looking down from the top of the chapel. The guide asked us who we thought they were. Some guessed kings or other royalty. He told us these heads were self sculptures of the workmen who built the chapel, their autographs, if you will. What a creative and interesting way to seek immortality.  There’s a close up below.

Decoration on Cormac's Chapel

Decoration on Cormac’s Chapel

The chapel originally contained colorful murals covering the walls but they were painted over many years ago. Small areas have been painstakingly cleaned to reveal hints of the early exquisite beauty.

Remaining fragments of frescoes in Cormac's Chapel, Rock of Cashel

Remaining fragments of murals in Cormac’s Chapel, Rock of Cashel

The oldest remaining structure on the Rock of Cashel is the round tower, or bell tower, which dates to around 1101. Amazingly, it is still intact which our guide explained is due, in large part, to the design. The doorway to Irish round towers is typically 6-10 feet above ground level requiring a ladder to access the tower. Previously, historians conjectured this feature was for security so that the ladder could be pulled up and access denied to invaders. Our guide explained, however, the  wooden door could be easily breached by burning or chopping it open. The real reason for the elevated doorway was to provide stability to the structure.

Round Tower seen from inside the Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower seen from inside the Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower and Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Round Tower and Cathedral at Rock of Cashel

Another Cathedral was built in the 1200’s to fit into the space not occupied by the chapel and the round tower.

The Cathedral, Rock of Cashel

The Cathedral, Rock of Cashel

I’ve mentioned our tour guide several times throughout this post. He was knowledgeable and informative and my son noticed that his name tag said Lawlor, which is a variation of Lalor, my husband and children’s surname. Of course.

Our tour guide in front of the statue of St. Patrick at the Rock of Cashel

Our tour guide in front of the statue of St. Patrick at the Rock of Cashel

Just down the road from the Rock of Cashel, we visited Hore Abbey, built in 1266 by Benedictine monks. Not long after, however, the Benedictines were expelled and the monastery was given to the Cistercians. The abbey was in ruins but it was a pleasant walk on a beautiful day.

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

View of Hore Abbey from Rock of Cashel

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey

Hore Abbey looking back at the Rock of Cashel

After wandering around the abbey ruins, we drove to nearby Cahir Castle on the Suir River just 12 miles down the road.  Another Heritage site, this castle is one of the largest and best preserved in Ireland, and in its day was considered impregnable. Erected in the 13th century, it is thought to have been built by Anglo-Normans as a defensive structure and show of power to warn the Irish that they now controlled the land. The current structures date from the 16th century. It was closed for renovations and reopened just in time for our visit. We thought we wouldn’t have enough time to do it justice after spending so much time at the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey but when we heard admission was free that day, we decided to have a look and we were so glad we did.

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle, Cahir, Ireland

When we visited Ireland 10 years ago, we noticed a definite lack of restriction on exploring somewhat dangerous sites. We are respectful visitors who don’t take unnecessary risks so we appreciated that freedom. This time, it seemed more areas were off-limits but, fortunately, we were allowed to walk the walls at Cahir Castle. I doubt this would be allowed in the U.S.

Cahir Castle

Brian and Jim on the ramparts of Cahir Castle

The purpose of the portcullis, or gate, was to close the castle off from attack. It is still operational today and can be seen in the photo below.

Cahir Castle

Portcullis or gate at Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle Tower

Inside the keep we found an extensive exhibit about the role of women during medieval times. Often, the history presented about castles is mostly military and I prefer social history so this was particularly welcome to me. Although there were not a lot of noblewomen in the castle, the areas they inhabited were more comfortably furnished with inner courtyards and gardens to ensure the women were secluded from the garrison.

Inside the Keep at Cahir Castle

Inside the Keep at Cahir Castle

The charming small town of Cahir was visible from the ramparts of the castle. Although we didn’t have time to explore this town, I would love to go back.

View of the town of Cahir from the castle

View of the idyllic town of Cahir from the castle

Swans on the River Suir in Cahir, Ireland

Young family viewing swans on the River Suir outside Cahir Castle, Cahir, Ireland

Next time we’ll continue beyond the pale as we begin our adventure on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Based on events from April, 2015

References:

http://www.worldwidewords.org

Guide at Rock of Cashel

http://www.cahircastle.com

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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