Day 5 (continued)
Back to recapping the Ireland trip. Where were we?
Mikey and I had just wrapped up our time in Kinsale at Fishy Fishy Cafe for lunch and were heading west toward the town of Killarney. At that point, we’d become accustomed to the road systems in Ireland. The spiral-bound map of Ireland that we purchased at Barnes & Noble before our trip proved to be very useful. Our smartphones weren’t very reliable in some areas of the country, so the map was a great back-up.
By the time we made it to Killarney, we still had a few more hours of daylight to explore, so instead of checking into our hotel, we drove around in search of the Torc Waterfall, located in Killarney National Park. As we drove along Muckross Road, we started to see signs for the national park and quickly pulled into one of the park parking lots.
As we were pulling into our spot, one of the jaunting cart (horse and carriage) drivers approached our car and offered us a tour through Killarney National Park for 30 euro. We were planning to only see the Torc Waterfall, but we weren’t opposed to seeing the other sights in the park. So we said yes, parked and hopped into the cart pulled by Tommy, the horse.
Our driver’s name was Patrick, and he spoke with a heavy Gaelic accent. Mikey and I got such a kick out of the horse commands he gave Tommy. A lot of “whoooooaaa, Tommy” and “gooo on, Tommy, gooo on” and “hold on Tommy, Kodak mooooment, Tommy”.
At one point, we heard him yell something in Gaelic to another jaunting cart driver, which confirmed that he did indeed speak Gaelic. This was a real treat for Mikey, since all along he wanted to hear someone speak Gaelic. Patrick taught us the translation of Michael, which is pronounced, “Mee-hall”. So that’s what I’ve been calling Mikey when he gets into trouble. ;o)
Anyway, Tommy led us through a lush forest of greenery, including California Redwoods and endless rows of rhodedendrons. The first stopping point was near the Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan friary. It was founded in 1448 and was raided on numerous occasions. Seems to be the case for so many monasteries in Ireland. Sad to think how much madness ripped through the countryside back in the day.
Our next stop was the Muckross House, a Tudor-style mansion built by a Scottish architect in 1843. There’s a small fee to tour the house, but since we wanted to make it to the Torc Waterfall before sunset, we only got up close and personal with the perfectly-manicured gardens.
From the Muckross House we saw fantastic views of Lough Leane, one of the Lakes of Killarney. Translated, Lough Leane means “lake of learning”. It was named for this reason because Brian Boru, Ireland’s first king, was educated by monks on one of the 36 islands on this lake.
We continued on to our final Killarney National Park destination, the Torc Waterfall, passing a 500-year-old oak tree along the way.
Note to anyone who wants to visit the Torc Waterfall in Ireland: You don’t have to go through the entire park to see the waterfall. There’s a road you can drive that leads right to it. We just happened to park at a lot that was six miles away from the waterfall, and there was no way I was about to walk six miles to get there.
Patrick pulled Tommy to a stop and pointed to the pathway that led up to the waterfall. Step by step, we began to hear the water trickling over moss-covered rocks, and soon the Torc Waterfall came into view.
What also came into view were a pair of tourists in their underwear, hiking down the waterfall! Let me tell you how awesome it was to see something so ridiculous overshadow the beauty of a peacefully gushing waterfall. Idiots.
I managed to snap a few pictures without the undie-clad vacationers in my viewfinder before heading back down the pathway toward Patrick and Tommy. And from there, it was back to our car in the parking lot on Muckross Road. We made to sure to get a picture with Tommy before packing it into the car.
I’m really glad we ran into Patrick in that parking lot. The jaunting cart ride was fun, and I would highly recommend it as a way to see the sights of Killarney National Park without spending so much time walking around. And as nerdy as it may sound, I kinda felt like I was in a movie, riding in that jaunting cart with Tommy tugging us along.
Our next stop was the Victoria House Hotel. I booked a room there for under $100 on Hotels.com. The reviews I read weren’t impressive, but I was willing to stay there for the excellent price. Needless to say, we weren’t expecting much from the Victoria House. But much to our surprise, this was one of the best places we stayed during the trip!
Many of the reviews I read talked about how the rooms were outdated and that the views outside were of a trailer park. But when we walked in, we were delighted to see everything was clean, and the decor was modern. Maybe we lucked out and got a newly-remodeled room? There was even a jacuzzi tub! And out the window, we didn’t see a trailer park. We saw a couple of horses grazing in the grass! It really is a great feeling to think you’re going to be underwhelmed by a hotel room and find it’s pretty spectacular.
We decided to have a low-key evening and dined at the hotel’s Ivy Room Bar. After meal after meal of pub grub, I had a serious craving for pasta, and so that’s what I ordered. It totally hit the spot and could arguably be one of the best meals I had in Ireland. Mikey played it safe and ordered a burger and a Jameson for dessert.
When we finished dinner, we headed back upstairs to map out our driving route for Day 6 before hitting the hay in our comfy king-size bed.
As I look back at how meticulously I planned out our itinerary for this trip, I laugh at the fact that I had us waking up at 7am on some days. Who was I kidding? I can hardly wake up at 7am for work, let alone while I’m on vacation! On top of that, the day doesn’t really get started any earlier than 8am in Ireland. Apparently, the Irish like to sleep in, and I like it!
We had a light breakfast at the hotel restaurant before checking out and hitting the road — the Ring Road, that is. The agenda for Day 6 was driving the Ring of Kerry, a scenic route in County Kerry. There are numerous villages, attractions and lookout points along the way. We drove north toward Killorglin, making sure we drove in a counter-clockwise route around the ring to avoid the tour buses, which drive clockwise around the ring.
We passed Killorglin and eventually saw a sign for the Kerry Bog Village. It’s an outdoor museum of reconstructed cottages that gives visitors a glimpse into what life was like for small Irish villages back in the early 1800s. I read about it in the Fodor’s Ireland book, so we pulled over to check it out. After paying a 5 euro admission fee, we stepped into the village. It consisted of a series of thatch-roof houses that we could explore at our leisure. Each cottage was named after one of the villagers and was themed around that villager’s role in the community.
For instance, there was Phil McGillicuddy’s home, known as the stable dwelling, that was both a family residence and a stable for animals such as pigs and cows. Surprisingly, some dwellers slept with the livestock in their homes for heating purposes. It helped to keep the cottage warm. Another cottage was known as the Labourer’s Cottage and was owned by Denny Riordan. As a general handyman, Denny lived alone and spent his days working in the bog lands, transporting and cutting turf.
Speaking of bog land, villages like the Kerry Bog Village relied heavily on bog-lands in the building and maintenance of their homes. In these bog lands, workers could find peat, a soil made up of partially rotted remains of dead plants which have accumulated on top of each other in waterlogged places for thousands of years. The peat was used to build the roofs of the cottages and insulate the home. Bog ponies, which are native to Ireland, were responsible for hauling peat back to the village. I caught a photo of them below — although they clearly were not interested in getting to know me.
And of course, my favorite part of the Kerry Bog Village was seeing the dogs — Irish Wolfhounds, to be exact. Fionn and Kerry are two Irish Wolfhounds on the museum grounds that we got to visit with and pet. (We spend much of our time on vacation missing The Bear, so interacting with other dogs is therapeutic for us.) They don’t live on the museum grounds though. According to the sign, they get plenty of love, food and exercise on a farm not far from the Kerry Bog Village. They were just so sweet, cute and gigantic. And now I want one.
Although the Kerry Bog Village didn’t focus entirely on the Irish Potato Famine, there was a sign about it that stood out to me at the front entrance. The Potato Famine took place in the mid-1800s, which means the people who lived in a village like this were probably greatly affected by the famine. The Irish population fell by 20 to 25 percent, and it’s during this time between 1845 and 1852 when many of the Irish emigrated to places like the U.S., Canada and Australia. According to the sign here, a number of social, political and economic factors contributed to the famine, but a large reason was the fact that Ireland was exporting too many of its goods, leaving none for its own people. A tragic period that goes down in history as one of the greatest catastrophes of all time.
Next door to the Kerry Bog Village is the Red Fox Inn, known for their world famous Irish coffee. So naturally, we enjoyed a couple in the bright, beaming sun. We even got a small discount on the coffees with our ticket vouchers from the bog village.
From there, we climbed back into the car and took off to Rossbeigh Beach. It. Was. Gorgeous.
All along, the hubs was telling me “See, now you can’t say you haven’t been on a beach vacation this year.” And although this was no tropical beach, it was still as mesmerizing as the ones with palm trees, coconut husks and sand crabs. The strip of beach we were on stretched for what seemed like forever. The sand was so solid too. We didn’t have to worry about our shoes sinking in.
As much as I wanted to stay, we eventually had to head out — for pub grub! We stopped at a pub called An Bonnan Bui (Gaelic for The Yellow Bittern) in Caherciveen. It caught my eye with its bright green exterior and flower boxes in the windows. Of all things, we ordered a pizza (which totally hit the spot) before we continued on our merry way.
Once we passed Caherciveen, we started to notice a lot of lookout points. So we had no other choice but to stop and check some out. This had to be the best part of the drive.
I could not believe how clear the day was and how brightly the sun was shining. Apparently, this never happens in Ireland. Even some of the locals said so. We couldn’t have picked a better day to drive the Ring.
From these lookout points, we drove through a few more towns, including Waterville, Caherdaniel and Sneem, before stopping in a town called Kenmare. I saw in a brochure that Kenmare is home to the Lace and Design Centre. Since I’m so into lace lately and because there was no fee to get in, we decided to see it. Located in a tiny room above the tourism centre, the Lace and Design Centre houses a number of interesting pieces. I wasn’t wowed by anything there, and I doubt we spent more than 10 minutes in the room, but at least I can now say I’ve been there. I did manage to snap a few pics of the rainbow-colored buildings on the way back to the car and out of town.
Overall, our Ring of Kerry road trip was pretty spectacular. I’d recommend driving the route to anyone visiting the Emerald Isle. And speaking of driving, the hubs and shot a little video of our adventure behind the wheel in Ireland. Narrow, curvy roads and coastlines, plus high speed limits (100km) equal quite a difference from our roads at home. Took a little getting used to, but Mikey was a pro.
Now to the small town of Newmarket-on-Fergus, located outside of Limerick, where we stayed overnight in castle! Keep your eyes peeled for that upcoming post.