On Tuesday we got to Killarney. Killarney is one of the biggest tourist towns in Ireland, due to its closeness to the ocean and its own Killarney National Park, hundreds of acres of beautiful wilderness, hiking trails, narrow roads, and mountain views.
The town of Killarney is not a huge town, it was very easy to get around and the people were very friendly. Co. Kerry is not only home to Killarney, but it is home to Killarney National Park which is home to Muckross House. But, we will get to that later.
On our first full day in Killarney, Matt went golfing at the Dooks Golf Links. I told him he would be crazy to not go golfing while we were in Ireland, on a real links course as well. Matt researched all of the courses in and around Co. Kerry before making his decision.
Wednesday he went. Up until that day we had been blessed with unusually sunny Ireland weather. When we were in Dublin, Belfast, and Wicklow the weather had been perfect. Wednesday, it became the Ireland everyone in Ireland was used to. So, at 8:00AM, in gray, Ireland mist, Matt teed off.
Thankfully, Matt was paired with other Americans who happened to be from Georgia. Small world, since his cousin lives in Georgia as well. The two men had just started their trip in Ireland and were going around the opposite way we went. Which, is another option when visiting Ireland, flying into Shannon airport and leaving by way of Dublin.
While Matt was golfing, I was amusing myself in Killarney. I found a coffee shop called Jam, with great lattes and a traditional sausage roll(a sausage wrapped in puff pastry). I worked on my blog and did some research about things to do when Matt got back. I also checked out some shops.
When Matt got back, he told me all about his golf experience, he got dried off, and then we headed out onto the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop was Muckross House, at the entry way to the Ring of Kerry.
Muckross House is located between two of Killarney's lakes, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane(lough is the Gaelic word for lake, pronounced loch). It was built by Scottish architect William Burn in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife Mary, who happened to be a watercolorist. All of her works were displayed in rooms in the house. Most of them were of Killarney and the park.
Sadly, there were no pictures allowed in the house, due to wanting to preserve the belongings of the family, which about 70-80% of them where original to the house. There were many pieces of furniture made in Killarney as well as a portrait done of William Bowers Bourn, an American who purchased the house in 1911. The portrait was done by one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent.
The house's main claim to fame is in 1861, it received a visit from Queen Victoria herself as she was doing a tour of the area with her ladies in waiting and other important figures of the British Empire. It took the family nearly 6 years to complete the improvements for the Queen's visit. New and very expensive drapes had to be made in France, a new billards table was purchased, weighing nearly 3 tons. The floor had to be specially braced for the weight.
Queen Victoria had a fear of fire as well, and she insisted on having her room on the first floor and a special fire escape ladder be added to the window. Now, this might not seem silly, but for a two night visit, this was a little extravagant.
The Herbert family only had the pleasure of meeting the Queen once while she stayed at their house. She did not even done with them, having also requested a separate, private dining room for her stay.
Now, in those days after you had opened your house to the Queen, a family could expect great rewards. Some families received land, a visit to court, and even a title. However, the Herbert family was forgotten. The Queen's mother died a few months later as well as her husband, Prince Albert, sending Victoria into her mourning period. the renovations the family did to prepare for the Queen, put the estate in great debt for a time and life wasn't easy for the Herberts.
It was then purchased by a member of Arthur Guinness's family, and then it was sold in 1911 to William Bowers Bourn for his daughter, Maud and son-in-law Arthur Rose Vincent from California. Then in 1932, after Maud passed away, the family decided to give the house and all of the lands back to the Ireland nation. It was then that Killarney National Park was formed and became Ireland's forest national park.
After we toured the house, with our very informative tour guide, Aiden, who was surprised Matt and I guessed that the huge churn that was in he kitchen was an ice cream maker, we headed to drive some of the Ring of Kerry.
First, funny story. The receptionist at Muckross House. She checked us in with our Hertihage Cards(which if you come to Ireland is a MUST purchase...50euro together, BUT, got us into a majority of Ireland's heritage sites, which at 6-10euro at each place, we definitely got our $$ worth, especially when we saw 20-30 of the sites on the list). Then she asked us what the rest of our plans were on the days we had left in Ireland. We told her we didn't have any set plans, probably to drive the ring.
The woman, stopped, looked at us over her glasses and sighed. At first we thought we were in trouble. In a hushed tone, she said, "Why are you driving the ring? To drive the entire thing will take more than five hours, much to crowded. Go to Dingle." She then pulled out a Co. Kerry tour book and began leading through, circling things, jotting things down on a piece of paper. She was also extremely annoyed we were going to Tralee, as she said it was not much of a town with not much to do.
I wish we had gotten her name. She was elderly and gave us so many tips and told us we HAD to drive to Dingle, "much nicer than Killarney, views are much prettier and stop by and go to Aghadoe to view to Killarney Lakes, much nicer and prettier than Ladies View", all still in hushed tones, like she was going to be caught by giving us information.
So, with promises to go to Dingle, and afraid that she might come after us if we didn't, we continued on our rainy tour of Killarney National Park.
Torc Waterfall was beautiful and we got there just before three HUGE tour buses. Then we headed up to Ladies View, even though the receptionist didn't respond to our plans to going and it was rainy, it was something I had wanted to see.
We drove up a narrow road, that at times was so steep that it felt like our little VW was going to fall off the side. Some of the roads were one lane, making it impossible for two cars to pass and tour buses. We had to pull over as far as we could at times so we could pass or cars could pass. But when we got to Ladies View, it was worth it.
Ladies View got its name from Queen Victoria's visit in 1861. After touring the lakes and mountains, her ladies in waiting declared the view to be the most beautiful in Killarney. So, it got the name Ladies View for Victoria's ladies.
On a clearer day, you are able to see the lakes of Killarney and down to Killarney Town. However, even in the Ireland weather, the view was still breathtaking.
Then we headed back down the mountain and decided since the drive was a little nerve-wracking, some pints and dinner were in order.
The next day, on our way to Ballyseede Castle, our hotel stop in Tralee, we decided to drive the Dingle Peninsula as the woman at Muckross had suggested. The drive to Dingle was about an hour from Killarney, and if you are staying in Killarney, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Dingle.
Dingle is a town on the coast of Ireland. It is one of the biggest fishing towns in Ireland and much of Ireland's seafood comes from Dingle. Dingle is also known for two drives, one around the coast called Slea Head and Connor Pass, through the mountains. It is all part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
First we stopped on our way out of Killarney at Ross Castle. Ross Castle is part of Killarney National Park. It was built by the O'Donoghues in the 15th Century. We had a wonderful tour guide. I just wish some of the others on the tour would have been as courteous and attentive as those who were trying to learn something.
We went all the way up into the towers and saw the various rooms of the castle and learning about the life of the lairds who lived in it. Again, no pictures were allowed inside, which did not make one visitor happy, who kept trying to take pictures. But, rules are rules and as a tourist, you should respect the rules of the country you are visiting. This is why Americans get a bad reputation.
We learned a lot on our tour of Ross Castle. The castle went through several owners during the Desmond Rebellions, on was Macarthy Brown, who leased the castle and its land. It was fitted with several defense mechanisms, like spiked doors and a "murder hole" that allowed troops to dump hot tar, chicken feathers, scalding animal fat, and rocks at enemies through a secret hole in the ground by the front entrance.
In 1652, Ross Castle was the last stronghold to defend the area during the Irish Confederate Wars against Cromwell. However, it was given up to Cromwell and his soldiers when General Ludlow marched his 4000 troops to Ross Castle.
Life in the castle's medieval times was not glamourous at all. If you were a laird or the laird's wife, you would have slept sitting up in bed. It was the medieval belief that you caught lung diseases from laying down when sleeping. That is why historians believe headboards were invented for beds. Nevermind all of the lice, fleas, and ticks that carried disease, poor diet, and uncleanliness, laying down when sleeping was what caused you to catch your death.
After our castle tour, with some very unappreciative and rude attendees, we started on our trip to Dingle and Tralee. We found Aghadoe Pass, which is the view opposite of the Ladies View. Ladies View shows you the backside of the lakes and mountains, Aghadoe Pass shows you the frontside.
After seeing Ladies View, Aghadoe Pass took the prize for its beauty and view. It wasn't crowded, and it was a lovely stop outside of Killarney. Many tourists don't know about it, so it wasn't crowded and we were able to sit and enjoy it. Glad the sun was out!
Looking up at the mountains, it was hard to believe that the day before we were driving up in those mountains to Ladies View. Next, on to Dingle!
Just with the views from the car, I knew Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head were going to be beautiful! I have come to really LOVE the Wild Atlantic Way and can't wait to come back someday.
The roads to Dingle town got a little scary. Some of them, the edges were cliffs that plummeted straight down to rocky ocean, but we pressed on.
We were glad to get to Dingle. We had a great lunch at a place called, Chowder that was recommended by our Muckross lady. We had fresh seafood chowder with chunks of wild salmon, cod, mussels, and calamari. She also told us about this little locally owned ice cream shop called Kool Scoops. She told us it was 100 times better than Murphy's and less expensive, which it was.
After enjoying the sunshine and our ice creams, we continued on our way on the Slea Head drive to the Blasket Centre.
Instead of ice cream, we probably should have had a pint before going any further on the Slea Head drive...
We didn't really know, like a majority of the roads we drove, what we were getting ourselves into. This was probably the most adventurous of all of our coastal drives we went on. Gorgeous view points, but there were times we wondered why we were doing this.
At the end of Slea Head, there is the Blasket Centre. The Blasket Centre is devoted to a group of people who settled on the Great Blasket Islands, out at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. Between the 1830s and all the way up to the 1950s, people settled on the islands, speaking strictly Irish Gaelic and creating their on world. They built houses and had things brought in to them from Dingle. They built tools and boats and worked the land and braved the elements.
Several Irish journalists ventured to Blasket to learn the old language and learn from the people of Blasket. There was a school formed for the children and a boat slip built for the boats they made so they could venture to Dingle, but many never left.
But, with the Great Famine(or as we call it, Irish Potato Famine), the curiosities of America and Dublin, many of the younger generation of the Blasket Islands began to leave. By 1957, there was not enough living on the islands to declare it a town. The remaining islanders were evacuated to the mainland, bringing their items with them, but leaving their homes.
After we visited the center, and viewed the island from the shore, we got back in the car and continued down the a Wild Atlantic Way, stopped back in Dingle and got pints at Murphy's Pub, another place our Muckross friend told us about, and then decided to get to Tralee and our hotel.
We stopped at Inch Strand Beach. There were several surfers catching the giant waves that were crashing on shore and swimmers. Brrr! Too cold for this girl!
With one last look, we got in the car and headed to Tralee and our hotel, Ballyseede Castle.
Our hotel in Tralee for the night was a huge manor house that had been converted into a hotel. Beautiful and very old. I felt like a princess or Mary Lennox when she comes to Mistlethwate Manor. We decided that while the castle was cool, the next time we venture to Ireland, we would probably do another night in Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, since Tralee didn't have much to do.
We did find a great dinner though. We went to Quinlan's Seafood. It is a local fish monger, but they have meals made with their catches of the day. All of the seafood is brought in fresh and there is a huge board that has the names of the fisherman who caught your dinner. Matt had prawns with a garlic mayonnaise dip(they LOVE their garlic mayo in Ireland), and I had fish and chips, where I got to pick my fish. I could choose between hake, whitefish, haddock, or cod. I went traditional and got cod.
This was a great end to our trip to Tralee! The ladies running Quinlan's were wonderful. Will definitly go back, maybe next time try their place in Killarney. Wish we could have brought some of their fresh fish back to the states, it was that good!
As much as I hate to say it, tomorrow's entry will be about our last day in Ireland. I have loved this trip so much and can't say enough about it. We over a 1,000 pictures and lots of stories and experiences I can't wait to share.
Check back for my post tomorrow about Rock of Cashel and our last adventure in our trusty Volkswagen Polo! Slainte!